I have a personal interest in the time period this historical novel portrays, having not only ancestors who took part in the Napoleonic wars but also my direct line of descent who shortly after 1815 migrated to London from Wales. I couldn’t pass the chance of reading a story that I identified with!
From an historical perspective the story doesn’t disappoint. I enjoyed reading about how the changes in London were taking place – losing fields and orchards - which were being replaced by buildings. The descriptions were so good I could imagine my ancestors walking the same footsteps as Harriet on her wanderings. Religion is briefly mentioned in the form of Shabbos (Hebrew) and the synagogue and Christian sermons/churches.
The army and it’s journey is easy to read – the descriptions coming alive and instead of being a separate part of the story, merged in beautifully with those waiting at home and their own personal stories. The description of the frenzy that took place after the victory of Badajoz made an impact on me – I could quite imagine the haze that descended for Thomas Orde and how he blanked everything out until a major crisis happened in his life later on in the story.
The philosophy behind the bull fight and the Matadors totally gripped me – at first I found it difficult to comprehend from a Western state of mind, but on reflection and from a distance, makes total sense.
I was delighted to find Suffolk and the weavers struggle also a part of this story. Yes, I also had ancestors in Suffolk! although they had their own cooperage business the fight of the weavers would also have been a part of their lives.
The intrigue playing out between the characters was brilliant. I loved the way Stella Tillyard merged the emergence of gas lighting with Harriet’s laboratory ‘background’ and the resultant love affair that she has. I thought the way it is woven into the story worked really well. The relationship between Major Yallop and his wife Dorothy is a stabilising influence throughout the book – I really liked these two together! I thought the way the edges of pain were smoothed from loss were created beautifully.
My favourite character is Kitty (Lord Wellington’s wife). Her independence and standing up to Wellington is inspirational. How amazing in those times to have a business mind of her own and to deny Lord Wellington the power to hurt her! I also loved how generous she was with the children and finding a home for one of Wellington’s bastard children.
The war certainly changed all of the characters – those fighting in it and those left at home.
All in all, a fabulous read that not only gives you an historical perspective but also lots of intrigue and plenty of romance.