Guest review by Kelly Yanke Deltener:
Immersion into the atmosphere, vernacular and overall culture of a British officer’s continental life is what you’ll find with Georgette Heyer’s The Spanish Bride.
The title is misleading. Readers expecting a dashing love story between an officer and a beautiful Spanish woman will be slightly surprised. While the Heyer does give romantics every bit of that in her wonderful, off the cuff style, her real art lies with history in this novel.
Juana is a girl of only 14 when Napoleon’s occupation and defilation of Spain forces her family apart. Circumstances found her only remaining family, a sister, pushing her into the arms of Brigade-Major Harry Smith. Smith instantly fell for the young spitfire.
The Spanish Bride is a love story, but also a blow by blow account of the British engagement of the Napoleonic wars, specifically his occupation in Spain and the Duke of Wellington’s drive to force his troops back into France. Heyer’s style is similar to her other books, yet so different that it can seem daunting at first. She literally drops you into the middle of a war.
Based on a true story, Heyer developed the dialog and plotline from Harry Smith’s Autobiography and many history texts regarding the war. Don’t let this scare you. Immediately you are made to feel as if you are one of the Light Brigade chaps ready to take up arms. Silly round-about discussions regarding new leaders of divisions and commands have you feeling like one of the boys.
“The fellow who commands us will have to be a good fellow,” said Charlie Beckwith. “None of your old women, thank you!”
“And no damned reviews and inspections!”
“Must understand outpost duty!”
“Mustn’t be one of these cats on hot bricks who won’t go into action unless they’re pushed!”
“Take heart!” said Harry Smith, entering in the middle of this discussion. “The news is out. It’s old Alten.”
It makes one wonder how Heyer did it. While some of the secondary characters seem superfluous in the beginning, over time they slowly needle their way into your consciousness while reading the book.
“A friend was killed, and one wept over him; but soon one would find another friend, not dead but miraculously alive, and a spring of gladness would make one forget the first sorrow.”
Smith and Juana bring you through the war and its many hardships across the cities and small villages. Small details, like what soldiers ate, where the divisions traveled and how they camped are included in the book. All this presented in a format any romance reader can enjoy.
The battle scenes can be intense and just when you think the book is getting a little too history heavy, Heyer will throw a little bit of feisty our Juana for your pleasure.
The book does not go further than the Napoleonic wars, but history tells us Smith does later go on to become a General and the Governor of the Cape Colony in South Africa. Juana even has a town in South Africa named after her called Ladysmith, which the people started to refer to her as in her later years.
- Lieutenant General Sir Henry George Wakelyn Smith, 1st Baronet of Aliwal GCB
- Juana María de los Dolores de León Smith (Lady Smiht)
The Spanish Bride, by Georgette Heyer
Trade paperback (496) pages
Kelly Yanke Deltener is a freelance writer currently contributing to Examiner.com as the Jane Austen Sequel Examiner. She is an avid Austenite and a member of JASNA. In addition to reading and writing, you can find her puttering in her garden, questioning the tastes of her friend’s interest in reality television, raising her two wonderful boys and running 1/2 marathons. She finds time for her husband in all this nonsense as well. You can follow Kelly on Twitter as austenforever.
Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 06 Giveaway
Enter a chance to win one copy of The Spanish Bride, by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2008) 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!
Day 07 Aug 11 – Review: The Corinthian
Day 07 Aug 11 – Review: Faro’s Daughter
Day 08 Aug 13 – Review: The Reluctant Widow
Day 08 Aug 13 – Review: The Foundling
Kelly wrote: While the Heyer does give romantics every bit of that in her wonderful, off the cuff style, her real art lies with history in this novel.
And what an art it is! I love the bit of dialogue you quoted; it really does make the reader feel a part of that circle.
I am intrigues by the setting during the war. I’ve never been a fan of history class but do enjoy novels that mix history with relatable characters, so I hope to enjoy this book soon.
While some of the secondary characters seem superfluous in the beginning, over time they slowly needle their way into your consciousness while reading the book.
! Now that’s some good writing! I’d love to be entered in the drawing for her book!
Oh, I’d love to have a soldier’s view of the war! I want this one.
Thank you for the informative review. All of them are so helpful in deciding which Georgette Heyer novel to read first :-)
Wow, I can’t think of a better way to improve my paltry understanding of the Napoleonic wars! This book is definitely not to be taken lightly. I’m definitely reading An Infamous Army this fall, but I’ll put Spanish Bride on the list for winter reading.
>While some of the secondary characters seem superfluous in the beginning, over time they slowly needle their way into your consciousness while reading the book.
I love it when authors do this–makes a second reading a requirement just to appreciate the craft.
Thanks for a review of what sounds like a thrilling novel.
This one of the few “Romances” by GH that I have not read, and I agree with you Jane GS, it sounds like a thrilling novel. Also, as you said, “I can’t think of a better way to improve my paltry understanding of the Napoleonic wars” — something I’d like to do, and this, it seems, will be a painless way to do it.
No wonder I’ve enjoyed your OWN writing so much, Jane: your comments are well said, thank you!
I would say, as I did in my review of An Infamous Army, that this is the story of the Napoleonic wars with a romance attached and not the other way around. Based on a true story, this title has much more history and descriptions of campaigns and camp life than the romance but Heyer does it again here – makes you love Harry and Juana so much that you read the history because you want to know what happens to them.
Another example of Heyer’s impeccable historical research and another of her books that proves she is more than just a writer of regency romances.
I have a soft spot for this one. Heyer’s attention to historical detail has always been my favourite thing about her novels and The Spanish Bride, like An Infamous Army, was a wonderful example of that skill. I’ve always been a bit of a history geek so even before I read the novel I was familiar with Harry and Juana’s story – you stumble across them in footnotes all the time – so it was lovely read such a detailed and personal (if fictional) account of their relationship.
Oh wow! Harry and Juana are actual historical figures? Heyer never ceases to amaze me… Is this the only novel that Heyer does this?
Does Heyer use another form of Regency cant (not the one she reserves for aristocracy or the peerage) or does she revert to ‘vernacular’ speech in this one? From the bits you quoted, sounds more vernacular…
She does a lot of dialect and vernacular in this book. The historical portions of the book read similar to her regency cant, but nothing arduous to wade through. Very easy flowing, but I will warn you… it is only easy flowing once you’ve sat down and dedicated yourself to it. Remember this is war and you can’t just sit down and read this book light and breezy like. You should be ready to fight your way through a few battles.
Thanks Kelly! Your review really piqued my interest and will keep your ‘warnings’ in mind. =)
This one sounds just perfect for me. Maybe I go a bit against the norm but I live historical detail and actually enjoy learning about battles and how sometimes the smallest things are what brings about victory. Each review I read gets me more and more excited to finally take the plunge and read Heyer. Does anyone know where to find information on what characters of hers are based on historical persoanges or is this included in these new editions? Also, where can one find definitions of the slang and terms she is famous for using in her books?
Thanks for helping out this Heyer wanna be!
I went looking for Smith’s autobiography a year ago, and I found it online in its complete version. You’ll probably have to copy&paste. Not much fun to read off the computer screen, but not available anywhere else that I could find.
A very large number of people in both An Infamous Army and The Spanish Bride were real people. I think my favorite supporting character is Johnny Kincaid. What’s always amazed me about this one is the fact that Juana didn’t just go to England and live with his family. She travelled with Harry and the troops until he came to America for the War of 1812, and when he got back in time for Waterloo, she went there, too. This marriage seemed a lot like an equal partnership at a time when women weren’t expected to decide much on their own.
Just in case you didn’t find this yourself already, Kincaid: http://www.archive.org/details/randomshotsfromr00kincrich (Yes, I went looking for Heyer’s sources as well. My personal favourite characters are Cadoux and Colborne, though.)
I just recently read An Infamous Army and I remember references to Henry Smith and his young Spanish wife. How wonderful to know they really existed and I can read their own story. This one goes on the Wish List today. Thanks.
I loved the book and especially the review. I was susrprised to learn that this book was based on actual people.
As usual consider me in – I liked the review but I would like to read the book better. I love historical novels.
I agree that this book needs to be read as a history of war book and not as a regency romance, though there is a little of that. I had never heard of women who followed the drum, other than some camp followers which I thought were very poor women. This was eye-opening to me.
This is one I haven’t read yet. I’m a bit intimidated by her “war” books. But I’ll have to give it a try when I run out of her romances…
I haven’t read this yet, but I very much want to. I’m somewhat worried to start her historical novel because I love her Regencies so much and don’t ever want to feel “let down” by her books, which is a sentiment that many people I know have expressed after reading them. Regardless, Heyer can do no wrong in my eyes so I must read them at some point. There’s always something to love!
I have yet to read this book but am convinced I must do so soon after reading this review. Normally, I don’t care much for military history, but I was so entranced by An Infamous Army that I am thrilled to learn she has another novel in the same vein. Can’t wait!
I agree with all what Elaine has said.
But since Since I’m a native Spanish speaker (I’m Mexican), I must say that my only difficulty with it is when Heyer tried to make her characters speak in Spanish, even in Juana’s lips the language seemed a little unnatural.
There is another “Ladysmith” in the world: on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada!
The Spanish Bride is a wonderful book, and Harry and Juana are (in my opinion) a much more interesting couple than are the ones in Infamous Army. Also, Capt Kincaid’s book on the Peninsular Wars is very amusing and a fun read; it is no wonder it was a best seller in its time!
I don’t think you can call this a “romance” at all. It is straight-up historical fiction – and as far as I was able to discover, only the dialogue is fictional. Everything in the book is drawn from first-person accounts of the wars. I loved the book, but it is not escapist fluff like most of the rest of her books. Juana is, of course, my favourite character in TSB.
Juana is amazing. The view into life following the drum is amazing-even more so because it was true.