An Infamous Army, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest review by Elaine Simpson-Long of Random Jottings

An Infamous Army is a novel about the battle of Waterloo with a love story attached, not the other way round and the title refers to the Duke of Wellington’s unkind nickname for the motley collection of national armies under his command in 1815.

The story is set in Brussels where English society, the ‘ton’, had flocked for the season as it was the place to be and a hectic social whirl takes place in the months before Waterloo. Here we find Lord Worth and his now wife, Judith, whose romance we read about in Regency Buck.  Judith, who I freely admit is not one of my favourite Heyer heroines, is now a matron of some years with a child and rather conscious of her status and reputation so when the notorious Bab Childe hits town and Charles Audley, her delightful and charming brother in law falls madly in love with her, she is not best pleased, foreseeing disaster and scandal.

Bab Childe is a character who I really love, though on the surface she seems to have inherited all the wildest characteristics of her grandfather, Vidal (yes he of Devil’s Cub who makes a brief appearance), she is beautiful, brave and warm hearted and it is the involvement we, as readers, have with Charles and Barbara, their coming together, their parting and their final reconciliation which keeps us hooked.

Heyer is very clever here. Would you read some seventy pages given over to a description of the campaign at Waterloo if you were not personally involved? Probably not.  The first time I read this Heyer I was totally overwhelmed with admiration when reading this section – it doesn’t bore, it doesn’t drag, it is as history should be.  It seems that I am not alone in my admiration as this account of the Battle of Waterloo is so highly thought of that it has been used at Sandhurst Military Academy in their training programme ever since.

When reading a biography of Georgette Heyer I came across a rather lovely anecdote from her son who remembers being taken, as a child, to the United Services Institute, where they found a model of the Battle of Waterloo. His mother began to describe it to him, too absorbed to notice the arrival of a party of school children filing in behind her whose mistress told them to hush and listen as she recognized the speaker and knew she was in the presence of an authority.

When I go to my library, I find Heyer’s books filed in the romance section along with Mills & Boon, Harlequin et al. Please don’t think I am dissing such books, I am not.  I adore a good romance as much as the next person but I think Georgette Heyer is a writer who should not be classified in this genre. She deserves more recognition and appreciation. She never received it in her lifetime from the literati of the day and it was a source of some bitterness to her.  She certainly proves that she deserves it in this marvelous book.

An Infamous Army, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2007)
Trade paperback (492) pages
ISBN: 978-1402210075

Elaine Simpson-Long has been blogging at Random Jottings now for four years and is amazed and delighted by the response she receives from her many visitors.  Thinking that nobody would want to read her thoughts on books as well as opera and life in general, she finds blogging to be enormous fun and very satisfying. Now retired after years of commuting to the city, she enjoys looking after her granddaughter whenever possible, traveling, going to the theatre and opera and of course, reading, reading, reading. Follow Elaine on Twitter as Brooksideelaine.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 06 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of An Infamous Army, by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2007) by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about the plot or characters, or if you have read it, which is your favorite character or scene by midnight Pacific time, Monday, September 6th, 2010. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010. Shipment to continental US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Upcoming event posts

Day 06    Aug 09 – Review: The Spanish Bride
Day 07    Aug 11 – Review: The Corinthian
Day 07    Aug 11 – Review: Faro’s Daughter
Day 08    Aug 13 – Review: The Reluctant Widow

Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010

45 thoughts on “An Infamous Army, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

  1. I am intrigued – a writer who can trick you into reading some real history must be good indeed! I would love to win a copy of this one (and I do agree that Ms Heyer shouldn’t be compartmentalized just because a publisher like Harlequin decided to add her romances to its collection.

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  2. 70 pages on the Battle of Waterloo does sound rather daunting to go through, but your review has convinced me otherwise, Elaine.

    What better way to learn about a bit of history than through a descriptive and colorful story-teller like Heyer? Someone who makes history come to life. If all history teachers could have been like her… =)

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  3. The first time I read An Infamous Army I wasn’t particularly intrigued by the characters (with the exception of Charles Audley) but still came out loving it because of all the historical detail. On rereadings since then I’ve come to love the characters too but I’ll always find Heyer’s description of the battle the most impressive thing about this novel.

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  4. This is one of my favourite Heyer novels and I think it is a brilliant book. Please do read it Regency Romantic – the description of Waterloo is stunning and throughout these pages we meet up with characters in the book whom we have come to know and love as we see what is happening to them in the thick of battle. Marvellous

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  5. I loved the characters in this book. And, although I recognize the excellence of the battle descriptions, I found them a bit confusing and tedious. I did appreciate the historical significance of the novel, and the characterization of Wellington.

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  6. I appreciate the way the characters in different books become connected in this book. I’m also intrigued by her use of history and how it still makes a great and interesting read.

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  7. You have made this novel sound fantastic… after reading My Lord John by Heyer I had decided I would stay away from her novels that were more historical in nature. Perhaps this novel could change my mind? I am intrigued byt the Battle of Waterloo as I have not read anything specific on it yet, but wonder how Heyer managed to do it so well for you.

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  8. I’m most intrigued by this Waterloo scene — and I especially like the anecdote about her and her son! I’d love to be entered in the drawing for this book — thank you for the offer, and these lovely posts!

    audra

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  9. I tried reading AIA during a trip and while enjoying most of the early chapters,wound up putting the book aside once I returned back home. This review has convinced me to give it another chance(especially since I recall how amusing Babs Childe’s affect on everyone was)-would it help if I read the other books connected to it first,though?

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  10. Reading Regency Buck first would help you connect to the characters, but, much as I love TOS and Devil’s Cub, you can get as much out of the story without reading them first.

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  11. Wonderful review! I’m intrigued to read some of Heyer’s more straightforward hi-fi – so far I’ve stuck to the romances – and this looks as good a place to start as any, although now I know to read Devil’s Club and Regency Buck first.

    Concerning Heyer and her wonderful historical accuracy, there’s another story I’ve heard re: this book – that she shelled out an enormous amount of money for one of the Duke of Wellington’s letters, so she could duplicate his compositional style. Marvelous!

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  12. I am a huge Heyer fan and own all of her books, but some of my copies are falling apart – this title is one of them. I just recently finished listening to the story on cd, because I didn’t think my paper copy would survive another reading. Winning a copy would be just marvellous.

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  13. Elaine wrote: When reading a biography of Georgette Heyer I came across a rather lovely anecdote from her son who remembers being taken, as a child, to the United Services Institute, where they found a model of the Battle of Waterloo. His mother began to describe it to him, too absorbed to notice the arrival of a party of school children filing in behind her whose mistress told them to hush and listen as she recognized the speaker and knew she was in the presence of an authority.

    I didn’t know about this — that’s really neat. Thanks for sharing.

    And I agree about the disservice done to Heyer by marketing her along the lines of harlequin romances! Sourcebooks is doing such a magnificent job with their covers, though. I hope it helps to change the minds of those who do judge books by their covers.

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  14. I love the anecdote about Heyer and her son at the museum.

    This book has long been on my TBR shelf, and thanks to reviews like yours, it will be read this fall!

    I agree that Heyer transcends the genre to which she has been catalogued, and it’s a credit to her worth that she is experiencing a resurgence.

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  15. Before “An Infamous Army” I suggest that you read the easy-to-understand

    BACKGROUND INFORMATION on the BATTLE OF WATERLOO:

    http://homepage.ihug.co.nz/~awoodley/regency/waterloo.html

    I wish I had seen it before I read the book! It’s a fascinating novel, and knowing that it was required reading at Sandhurst (British Military Academy) means it’s accurate. What an easy way to learn history; it’s a great book!

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  16. This review makes me want to read this novel even more! I’ve heard about the battle scene being used in history classes, and I find it quite intriguing that Heyer can paint history with such vivid strokes, though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised after reading many of her “romances.”

    I agree with Elaine about “classifying” Heyer’s novels… She does so much more with her books than just romance! I’ve been waiting for a few weeks for “An Infamous Army” to be returned to my library so I may experience the Battle for myself. :)

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  17. ” it doesn’t bore, it doesn’t drag, it is as history should be.” –That really caught my attention. History was never my favorite subject, because it could never hold my attention. Now I am curious to see how this book will do :-)

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  18. Oh my goodness me what a lot of simply lovely comments and so glad that I have made many of you want to read this terrific Heyer.

    The section on the Battle is broken up into chapters as she follows different characters around different parts of the battlefield so it is not one long unremitting block of prose.

    I found the friendship that springs up between Judith and Babs towards the end, forged as it is in dreadful circumstances, a wonderful part of the book.

    My Lord John is mentioned – a book best avoided IMHO and yet it was Heyer’s dream to write this book and to get away from her Regency romances. She began to despise them in the end and yet she was so at home with them and I don’t think she realised just how good she was. She was drawn to other historical periods at which she was not so good – the Regency was her metier. Her books are witty, sparkling and delightful but every now and then one lleaps out as being more than this. An Infamous Army is one of them.

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  19. I think you have given the key to read AIA to many:

    “An Infamous Army is a novel about the battle of Waterloo with a love story attached, not the other way round”

    There are many that do not like it that much precisely because it is more a historical novel rather than a romance, and the reason why I like it a lot, Heyer manages to give a History lesson with a spoonful of sugar, very well balanced.

    When I first read it I had been warned that it was more about Waterloo, but that did not scare me. Furthermore, with the knowledge that Charles Audley reappeared here as hero of his own novel and that Vidal reappeared too was also sufficient inducement and it did not dissapointed me.

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  20. Having heard that historians regarded Heyer’s description of the battle as one of the best ever, I used it as a source (along with others) for my Regency, Lord Roworth’s Reward–coincidentally coming out in large print this month. Also available as an ebook http://www.RegencyReads.com. If you haven’t already discovered this source for Regencies, go and look! Lots of your favourite and soon-to-be-favourite authors :-)

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  21. An Infamous Army is one of my favourite Heyer novels. And yes, it is not for the light-hearted reader. I first read it as a teenager, and skimmed through all the “boring” bits about Waterloo (think “War and Peace”) and was disappointed that there was so little of the romance between Babs and Charles – why was there so much space wasted on b—–y Waterloo? But then, I read it again as an adult and loved it so that I immediately started re-reading it again! The battle scenes are integral to the story, and there are sections which brought tears to my eyes. The romance is truly a sub-plot. However, there are small instances of comic relief (e.g. Judith’s match-making efforts which fail totally, and which her husband had been more insightful about). There’s a lot more subtlety in the relationships than in Heyer’s other novels, and a lot of reading between the lines. There really is a lot more to this book than meets the eye. I loved the fact that the Duke of Wellington has the last word. It’s a marvellous book, but you have to read it almost as a historical novel, and not as a romance per se.

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  22. This was my first Heyer – I read the Sourcebooks edition in 2007, and I had the impression it was a 70th anniversary edition (but not so much). I loved the book, but I found it wanting 1) footnotes (there is a bibliography, but nothing to link the facts and descriptions to their source material), 2) maps and battle diagrams, 3) a glossary. It would be nice to see a publisher take GH seriously! I was also irritated by the unattributed cover illustrations. There is a real portrait of Wellington and a portion of some other painting, but no indication of titles or artists. I saw one of the pictures on another book, but the only attribution was to the image bank they had picked up the picture from. Where is the integrity??? I was shocked thereafter to find GH filed in romance and chicklit. On the other hand her only other serious historicals that are actually readable are Toyal Escape and The Spanish Bride.

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  23. Having read the Devil’s Cub I am especially intrigued to read this one! I am very anxious to see how Georgette Heyer madthe Battle of Waterloo interesting and since I don’t know much about it, hopefully learn something new! Lovely review!

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  24. When I read this book, I told my Husband it brought Waterloo to life for me for the first time. I am glad to learn that I wasn’t alone in that. Enjoyed the review a lot. The relationships enclosed in the story of the war, did help to keep us interested and humanized the account of the battle to an enormous degree. She did deserve more laterary attentin than she received.

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  25. I know so little about Waterloo that when I get to mentions of it I tend to start skimming ahead. I wish I had had the warning that this was a history with a slight romance going on. I did persevere and finish the book, only to realize later that this book carried on other stories that I hadn’t read yet. I’ll get the order right this time. BTW, I love history, especially historical romances. I just apparently didn’t have the Napoleonic Wars background to get this one.

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  26. I wrote this for another Heyer reader over at LibraryThing.com, and thought it might be helpful for people here.

    The Masqueraders takes place a couple of years after the battle of Culloden, to which reference takes place, and refers to Farmer George, the Hanoveran king placed on the throne in place of the Stuarts. That battle was in 1746. Similarly, during TOS and Devil’s Cub, the French aristocracy was still intact, with the revolution occurring 1789-1799. So The Talisman Ring takes place within that period because the Revolution is still going on. The Regency period is strictly speaking from 1811-1820, while old George the 3rd was incapacitated but still alive, and the Prince Regent, later to be George the 4th, acted as his regent, but often loosely used for 1800 to 1825. Napoleon is at the height of his power in Europe from 1800 to 1815, and England is at war with him until the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 (when An Infamous Army, with Bab, Vidal’s granddaughter (he of Devil’s Cub) meets up with Charles Audley, the brother of Worth in Regency Buck, takes place).

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  27. I haven’t read this one yet because I did the math and figured out that my beloved Justin would be dead by the time this story takes place. I’ve also heard that this novel lacks Heyers usual wit and humor. However, I was unaware that characters from Regency Buck were included in the book. I may have to read it just on that, because I love those characters.

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    • I love your comment. Justin may be dead but his son Vidal and Mary are not.

      Vidal and Mary are the grandparents that come to Bab’s rescue. Mary is still practical and helps save Bab’s husband.

      The only unfortunate thing is that Vidal and Mary’s son (Bab’s dad) sounds awful. Wait, maybe I have that wrong.

      No, I think I’m right.

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  28. Thanks for the apt reminder that Heyer is as much a writer of historical fiction as she was of romance. I usually hate military history but adored this book. No other writer has ever managed to make me fascinated by a battle scene, though it certainly didn’t hurt that I totally adore Audley.

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  29. Pingback: ‘Celebrating Georgette Heyer’ at Austenprose – August 1st – 31st, 2010 « Austenprose

  30. I love Bab Childe but would have rather had a pure historical battle account with a minor romance OR a romance with a minimal description of a historical battle account.

    But, Infamous Army doesn’t work for me because it tries to do both big. An important romance and relay important historical info.

    I enjoy reading by the historical bits or only reading them alone. Maybe someday a publisher will include a cast of characters and a chronological listing of every minor and major battle. For me that would be the only way to fully enjoy the book.

    I think Heyer herself was uncomfortable – as novelist become – with her oeuvre since her novels were susceptible to be called frivolous simply because they were popular with women.

    So she did what romance writers do today, they try to leave the romance genre for a genre likely to be read by men and women – or maybe I should say they leave romance for women’s fiction then for mainstream fiction and its many subcategories.

    I think Heyer was brillant and wish she and many others took pride solely in numbers of books sold and branched out into other genres only because they wanted to and not because they felt they weren’t respected.

    Heyer could have written a brilliant history or a brilliant romance. I think Infamous Army is only partly realized since the parts compete and do not complement.

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    • I sort of agree with you, Lorrie, although I think that for me the fictional characters help humanize the story – I might have found it very hard to get through without them. But then she did achieve that with The Spanish Bride.

      AIA is a bit like the movie Titanic, in a way. Unless you are a teenage girl you probably don’t want to see Leo and Kate again, but the straight depiction of what happened – which is surely dramatic enough – is superb. Likewise with AIA. If only we had the footnotes, illustrations, maps, diagrams, chronological lists, etc.

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  31. When I first started reading AIA I admit I was reluctant because I thought it would be boring, and I wasn’t crazy about the characters. But it was amazing how it pulled me in so that, both during and after the battle, I felt like I was physically there. Not the typical Heyer, but a good read nevertheless.

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  32. I felt a lot of echoes of WWI when reading this book. It is eerie to think of the battles being fought over the same ground 100 years later. I wonder whether GH, having lived through WWI as a teenager and no doubt hearing endless stories of it in later years, had it in her mind when she wrote AIA.

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  33. I am in awe of any novelist who is able to describe an historical battle well enough that a military institution would use it as a textbook. I cannot comprehend it being done well enough to entire ordinary readers to read it. Amazing, absolutely amazing.

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  34. Reading An Infamous Army in my late teens is responsible for my many years since then of learning about military history. I’m only sorry that I didn’t read it when I was still going to school in Europe, so that I’d have known to visit the site of the battle.

    And I too wish there had been some maps and other illustrations included with the book, although the first copy I read had the end-papers with the basic battle plan on them.

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  35. I went to Waterloo as a teenager-and wish I had read this beforehand. I reread this book after many years in the Army-and could really appreciate it.

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