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An Infamous Army: A Novel of Wellington, Waterloo, Love and War    by Georgette Heyer order for
Infamous Army
by Georgette Heyer
Order:  USA  Can
Sourcebooks, 2007 (1937)
Hardcover, Softcover, Paperback, Audio
* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

In addition to her mystery novels, and the sparkling and frivolous Regency romances for which she is renowned, Georgette Heyer wrote several mainstream historical novels. These include The Conqueror, Royal Escape, The Spanish Bride, My Lord John and An Infamous Army. The action of this latter story takes place in Brussels and its environs in the Spring and early summer of 1815, and culminates in the Battle of Waterloo, when the British and Allied forces under the Duke of Wellington conclusively defeated the French led by Napoleon.

Heyer makes extensive use of Wellington's own words and letters along with the letters of his contemporaries in An Infamous Army (as she also does in The Spanish Bride, which takes place earlier during the Peninsular War). The campaign is accurately described and its excitement forms a colourful frame for the romance between Charles Audley and the wilful Barbara Childe. Their complex courtship is intertwined with the conflict in Heyer's unique manner.

In the introduction, the author disclaims any intention to compete with Thackeray's Vanity Fair. The latter's heroine attended the famous ball in Brussels on the eve of Waterloo, which is also featured in Heyer's work. Both authors describe the Battle of Waterloo, but modern readers will get as much or more entertainment from Heyer's version, and Barbara Childe is certainly a more attractive heroine than Becky Sharpe.

Fictional characters from previous books reappear, which is unusual for Heyer. The Earl of Worth met his future bride Judith Taverner and her brother Peregrine in Regency Buck. All are prominent in An Infamous Army and are living in Brussels as the story begins. Even its hero, Worth's brother Charles, appeared in the previous novel. Harry Smith of A Spanish Bride also makes a brief appearance, though of course he was a real historical character (he ended up, I believe, as Governor of Canada, while his wife, Juanita, gave her name to the town of Ladysmith in South Africa).

An Infamous Army is one of my Heyer favourites and I heartily recommend it. My copy is shabby and falling apart from repeated rereading so it is fortunate that the book has just been re-issued and I can obtain another one.

2nd Review by Hilary Williamson:

Along with several generations of my family, I've enjoyed reading and re-reading all of Georgette Heyer's works, but especially An Infamous Army, which appeals on several fronts.

Heyer's multitude of fans delight in the re-appearances of beloved characters from previous books - from the Earl of Worth and his spirited wife (once Judith Taverner) to The Spanish Bride's Harry Smith and Barbara Childe's grandmother Leonie who starred in These Old Shades. The leads intrigue - gallant Colonel Charles Audley is a professional soldier, a good man who falls hard for a femme fatale, the infamous, wild and impetuous Lady Barbara Childe. The toast of the town of Brussels, she delights in outraging society, while he's a responsible member of it - not an easy match, especially as Barbara's personal insecurities make her push the man she loves away, until war brings reality crashing down on all of them. The third factor in the appeal of this excellent historical romance is the author's meticulous research and smooth - never obtrusive or unwieldy - incorporation of that historical detail into her novel.

It's wonderful to see An Infamous Army reissued - with more to come from Sourcebooks, who have begun 'publishing the incomparable Georgette Heyer's classic novels' in trade paperback. An Infamous Army (the title coming from a quote by Wellington) is a novel that speaks against the glorification of war, making clear its inevitable carnage and heartbreak - a message that's sadly not untimely today.

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