Book Review

DocTurtle’s Infamous Finale

Title: An Infamous Army
Author: Georgette Heyer
Genre: Regency

Book CoverWhat a perfect way to end the year: DocTurtle finishes another review.

Part 5: Chapters 20 through 26

All things must come to an end, and so it is with Heyer’s tale of Waterloo.  After several truly engaging chapters, we come down from the mountaintop and finish out with a series of chapters focusing on the battle itself.  Eighty-eight straight pages of blow-by-blow on the battlefield!  Ouch.  I wouldn’t mind a few highlights, but I’ll be damned if Heyer doesn’t tell us of every last little manoeuvre either side makes.  I’ll go light on the details below.

Ready?

Here we go…

Chapter 20.  It’s just a flesh wound

The chapter begins at the Worths’.  Charles has returned from the front lines in order to spew some expository dialogue and show off his first war wound, a small scratch on his upper arm.  “Trying to rally those damned Dutch-Belgians!” he complains.  Sheesh…if only every soldier were a British soldier, eh?  After all, a British tar is a soaring soul, as free as a mountain bird!  Etc., etc.

After updating his hosts on the martial goings-on, Charles leaves with half of the Worths’ larder.  His parting words to his sister-in-law are meant to lead us astray: “Judith, if you should see Miss Devenish…I wish you will tell her that you have seen me tonight, and that all is well.”  And then to Bab: “I believe you friend Lavisse to be unhurt.  I should have told you before.”

As the Cockney coppers might say, “what’s all this, then?”

Then it’s Lucy’s turn to knock up the Worths.  It would appear that she couldn’t give a fig for Charles and is more interested in…

…“ ‘George?’ gasped Judith, grasping a chairback for support…‘He is my husband!’ Lucy said… ‘Last year—in England!’ ”

Well I’ll be.  You don’t say.  Huh.

Chapter 21.  Wherein DocTurtle begins skimming

Um.  Yeah.

I think I actually made it to the middle of page 370 (14 pages into the chapter) before I lost it and wrote “Blah blah blah…” in the margin.

At the bottom of that page I’ve written “toledoth,” a Hebrew word meaning “generations”: there are points in the Torah where for verse after verse after verse there’s nothing more than so-and-so begetting so-and-so begetting so-and-so until there’s no telling who is whose fifth cousin three times removed on the mother’s side.

So it is with the paragraph that begins “On this plateau, drawn back en potence to guard the right flank of the line, was Lord Hill’s Second Army Corps” and ends “Colonel Mitchell’s which was formed on the West of the Nivelles road, covering the avenue which led to the great north gate of Hougoumont.”

And it goes on, for another 10 pages after that.

But we couldn’t leave the chapter without the froidest display of sang yet seen, as Charles’s friend Gordon replies to Colonel Audley’s query about the artillery fire: “What do you call this?”  “Damned noisy!”

I say!

Chapter 22.  More

All you need to know about this chapter is that (1) Belgians are really cowardly, (2) Scotsmen are really brave, and (3) lots and lots and lots of people die.

Chapter 23.  Yet more

Twenty-four pages more, to be precise.  Herein Charles receives his second wound en courant, a shrapnel blast to the thigh.

About the only other event of note as far as our principals is concerned is Harry Alastair’s death.  Bab’s younger brother.  Damned shame.  He was a nice kid, if a bit cocky.  “I shall see you later, I daresay,” are his last words to Charles.  English to the end!

Chapter 24.  Guess what?  More!

Yup.  If we didn’t already know that the Lowlanders are a covey of craven cow-eyed kids, we’d know it by this chapter’s close.  The Dutch flee in terror while the Brits try to rally them.  And so forth.

On page 343 Charles receives his coup de grâce as an artillery shell all but takes his arm off.

As he’s forcing himself to his feet once more his arch-rival Lavisse gallops up.

  “Parbleu! it is you then?”

  “Hallo, Lavisse!  Get me a horse, there’s a good fellow!”

  “A horse!  You need a surgeon, my friend!”

After a quick tit-for-tat, Lavisse agrees to complete Charles’s last mission for him, and the erstwhile enemies bury the hatchet in the bloody soil south of Waterloo.

Wouldn’t life be more interesting if we each had our own personal arch-rival?  I think so.

Exeunt.

Chapter 25.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Hey, look!  Interesting stuff is happening!  One could lose an eye with all the loose ends flying around, but somehow they all end up tied together.

Most of Brussels has by now migrated to Antwerp, but the Worths remain.

Judith (known as “Miss Fickle” to her friends) has had a complete change of heart regarding Bab: “You are unjust, Worth!  For my part, I am persuaded that she repents bitterly of all that has passed.  Oh, if only Charles is spared, I shall be so glad to see him reunited to her!”  (I know I haven’t commented on Ms. Heyer’s exclamation marks lately, but boy howdy!)

Meanwhile Lucy’s aunt and uncle show up and let the Worths know that Lucy’s come clean to them.

And Bab’s grandfolks, the Duke and Duchess of Avon, make a grand entrance and a grand scene.  Since Lucy’s family’s had to, you know, actually work for their money, they’re not good enough for the Alastairs.  Says g-pops to Bab, “what’s this damnable story I hear about that worthless brother of yours?”

The Duchess is a bit more forgiving, reminding her husband that “you made a shocking mésalliance yourself,” hinting at how he’d married beneath his social standing as well.

Meanwhile meanwhile, the royal pair congratulate Bab on extricating herself from Charles, but she’ll have none of it: “Your congratulations are out of place.  I never did anything more damnable in my life.”

For the next several pages there’s much coming and going and hemming and hawing and oooo-arrring and harrumphing.  At last Worth announces that he’s off to fetch Charles, who’s been very badly wounded.

As it happens, they’ve had to remove his arm (I promise to make no jokes about Bab’s disarming smile).  Worth brings him back and they install him upstairs to convalesce.

Chapter 26.  England expects, and so do we

Charles is laid up, slowly recovering.  “It’s a lucky thing it was only my left,” quips Charles about his missing limb.  “It has been a most unfortunate member.  I was wounded in it once before.”  Such sanguinity!

Several important people call on him while he lies at rest, including that demigod, the Duke of Wellington, himself.  “Well!  We have given the French a handsome dressing!”

Vinaigrette?

At any rate, two pages from our story’s end, Charles finally slips a ring on Bab’s quivering finger.  Not one to let history be one-upped, Heyer makes our Happily Ever After fade into a scene of the Duke scribbling away, blowing the whistle on the brigades that deserted in the line of duty.

Overall?

Whew.

I’d give it high marks for exquisite language, lovely prose, and excellent imagery.  Heyer writes magnificently well and shows superb mastery of her idiom.  Her tone throughout is almost invariably delicate and genteel, yet she manages to bring forth appropriate brutishness where needed, as in some of the bloodier battle scenes.  Her dialogue is sharp and witty, but for the most part believable.

I’d give it a mixed grade for characterization: at times Heyer was riding high (Chapter 15 was marvelous), her characters rich and deep; at other times it was as if she couldn’t be bothered, and her characters were little more than one-dimensional ciphers.  I’m most disappointed in Lucy and George, whose personages were only scantily sketched throughout the novel.

I’d give it poor marks for pacing and plot: eighty-eight straight pages of gore and guts is a little much, and moreover it took well over a hundred pages before I really began to care about some of the characters.

All in all, maybe a low, inconstant B or B-minus.  At its best (which didn’t last long enough) it was delightful and fun to read, and at its worst it was a tiresome slog.  That said, if this is one of her worst books, I’d definitely be up for trying out one of her better ones.  Of course, I’m sure you’d all rather I tackle something in a different genre for my next set of reviews, so my next Heyer will likely be read off-record.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Tania says:

    His next Heyer? Ooh, I think he’s converted.

    I think Heyer was one of my firsts, too. My great-grandmother had a bunch of her novels.

  2. 2
    Hilcia says:

    Hah!  His next Heyer! (exclamation marks ala Heyer)

    Vinegrette?

    Thank you Doc Turtle for making me laugh so hard at work, that I thought they were going to come and take me away and put me away in a little white room with no windows.  Happy New Year, and happy future reviewing.  Looking forward to the next one.

  3. 3
    GrowlyCub says:

    Thanks, Doc.  Feel free to read another Heyer right away! After all, this ought to be fun, not work! :)

  4. 4

    Oh, if he’s gonna review Heyer again, I wanna know.

    But lets give him something different this time.  JD Robb…please…pretty please…or maybe a paranormal????

  5. 5
    hollygee says:

    Oh please, give him a Crusie. Welcome to Temptation, Faking It, or Fast Women. I’d love to see what he thinks of one of those.

  6. 6
    Polly says:

    I’m a huge Heyer fan, but I’ve never been a fan of her historicals. An Infamous Army is one of my least favorites, what with the chapters of unremitting historical detail. And while I liked Charles (who first showed up in Regency Buck), I found Bab pretty tiresome. And Simon the Coldheart is. really. terrible. Along with having some of the most stunted dialogue ever.

    Give him the Grand Sophy or Friday’s Child or Sylvester. They’re three of the funniest and well-written Heyers.

  7. 7
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I love AIA, but the battle scene does drag on (it’s not the first Heyer book I hand people) . . . most of her other books do not have this problem. The scene where the Highlanders march out of Brussels makes me cry every damn time.

  8. 8
    Rebecca says:

    A Happy New Year to everyone!

    How nice to read that he enjoyed the book!

    I have not read the book myself, but am slowly purchasing the Arrow/Sourcebook reprints (such lovely covers and layout) and reading through the catalog. An Infamous Army is on my list, but after listening to the audiobook, I feel I can wait a while.

    As mentioned above, I bought the audiobook of An Infamous Army and really enjoyed the reading. The long descriptions of the battles and Wellington’s planning and the general state of Brussels at that were easy to get through because of the excellent pacing of the reader, Claire Higgins.

    She has clearly marked the internal beats within the long descriptive passages, making them easy to understand, and interesting. The pace of the book doesn’t suffer in the least for this attention to the internal beats.

    Her characterizations are also clear and add to what was for me a great experience. I rarely give As to anything I hear, but Ms. Higgins’ performance of this book rates an A.

  9. 9
    beggar1015 says:

    Wouldn’t life be more interesting if we each had our own personal arch-rival?  I think so.

    You mean everybody doesn’t have a personal arch-rival? I have several myself.

    Hmmm…. my password is “came32”
    Hmmmm

  10. 10
    Rose says:

    I don’t seem to have an arch-rival or an arch-nemesis; how do you go about acquiring one?

    I second the Crusie recommendation; give him something fun to read, after slogging through every detail of Waterloo.

    Finally, unless I slept through that part of Bible class (quite possible), the Hebrew is wrong. Toledoth (pronounced toldot) means either history of (something) or genealogy, not generations (that’s dorot).

  11. 11
    holly says:

    I have loved the Duke of Wellington for years and years and years.  He was the embodiment in many ways of the archetypal romance hero.  If only he hadn’t been such an absolutely awful asshole of a husband – but the story behind that would make a good romance novel too, so long as they changed the ending and let Kitty Pakenham marry someone else before Arthur came back.  Oh well.

    I also enjoy reading about the Penninsular campaign and about Waterloo – but I wouldn’t want to read lengthy expositions about either in a romance novel. 

    I want Doc to read JR Ward.  Pleeeeeeeease…….

    word: there57 – um, there’s 57 things I still gotta do before the NYE poker party tonight, yet here I sit on the Internets.

  12. 12
    Sandia says:

    Can we vote for Doc’s next review???  I want to see him review Decadent!!!!

  13. 13
    Suze says:

    DocTurtle is awesome.  I think we should make him read a parfait of romances.  A problematical one to bring the snark, then a good one to cleanse the palate, then a snarky one…  It could be a regular feature for years to come.

  14. 14
    asdfg says:

    I vaguely remember reading that Heyer really wanted to write historical novels, and wrote the romances to pay the bills. Historicals My Lord John, Royal Escape come to mind.

    As a Crusie change of pace, Temptation, of course. Then there are Agnes and the Hitman by Crusie and Bob Mayer, mostly a whodunit, and The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes a hilarious romance also written by Eileen Dreyer and Anne Stuart.

  15. 15
    Gemma says:

    (I promise to make no jokes about Bab’s disarming smile)

    Ha! :D

    Glad to see you are considering sneaking in Heyers off the record.

    I have really enjoyed these two reviews and I am looking forward to more of them, regardless of which books might be recommended. (Although, how about a big-hitter such as Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale or Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase?.)

    You’re an extremely engaging writer:

    the froidest display of sang yet seen

    *grins*

  16. 16
    michelle says:

    I vote for Naked in Death.

  17. 17
    Silver James says:

    I don’t care what Doc Turtle reads next. I’m just happy he wants to keep reviewing! *w00t* He rocks!

  18. 18
    AgTigress says:

    I vaguely remember reading that Heyer really wanted to write historical novels, and wrote the romances to pay the bills.

    Umm.  In my youth, more than 50 years ago, Georgette Heyer was simply classed as an historical novelist.  One didn’t find her books under ‘romance’ in bookshops and libraries, but under general fiction.  Well, apart from Mills & Boon, there wasn’t really a romance section at all…

  19. 19
    robinjn says:

    For Doc Turtle, the Duke and Duchess of Avon’s story is contained in These Old Shades, and Devil’s Cub. These are early Heyers and deal with Georgian times (heroes at their metrosexual best!)

    Some people like the Regencies best and I do love them, but I also like the darker edge of those two books. Devil’s Cub is probably my favorite of all the Heyers. Do read some of the best regencies as well, including The Grand Sophy, Frederica, etc.

    And be on puce watch! Not quite so common as her exclamation points but boy did she love puce. Or, rather, not. You’ll probably have a lot of fun with an earlier thread: http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php/weblog/comments/go-ahead-win-some-heyer/

  20. 20
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    I vaguely remember reading that Heyer really wanted to write historical novels, and wrote the romances to pay the bills. Historicals My Lord John, Royal Escape come to mind.

    I recall reading somewhere that she vastly preferred the medieval period to the Regency, but it just didn’t sell very well in those days.  (And I actually enjoyed Simon the Coldheart far more than I did Infamous Army, though you need to have a pretty high tolerance for the kind of phony medieval dialogue that Josephine Tey called “speaking forsoothly” to get through it.)

  21. 21
    Wryhag says:

    or maybe a paranormal

    Yes, Shi, yes!

    I think Doc should take a stab at the Black Dagger Brotherhood, or run wild (in Nikes with swooshes, of course) with Anita Blake.  What fun awaits!

    beyond34 (and facing another stinkin’ year that will put me well beyond)

  22. 22
    Jaime says:

    Oooh yes! A paranormal would be fun!  I think he’d have fun with BDB esp after book 3 where some mysterious plot holes begin to swallow the universe….  Just for curiosity I’d like to see what he thought of some of the other paranormals out there like Nalini Singh or Lara Adrian.

  23. 23
    sandra says:

    Talking about British sang froide,  I recall hearing of an incident that actually happened at Waterloo:  One of Wellington’s aides suddenly said “By God, Sir, I’ve lost my leg.” To which the Duke repliedL “By God, Sir, so you have.” :-D

  24. 24
    Jessica says:

    I still vote for Into Danger by Gennita Low.

  25. 25
    Holly says:

    Sandra: That was Lord Uxbridge, Wellington’s cavalry commander.  Lord Uxbridge and Wellington were related by a scandal that would’ve made a wonderful book – and could just have easily happened today.

    Lord Uxbridge was married to Lady Caroline (“Car”).  Wellington’s brother Henry was married to Charlotte (“Char”).  Char and Uxbridge had an affair; Henry found out about it, and Char ran off, checking into a London hotel under an assumed name, where she was joined by Uxbridge, who’d decided to leave Car.

    The scandal rocked London, and it dragged on for some months – at one point, I think Uxbridge went back to Car, so Char begged Henry to take her back, but by that time she was either pregnant with Uxbridge’s son or had already had him, and while the baby bore the name Wellesley (Wellington’s family name), Henry never accepted him.

    There were many threats of duels, and Uxbridge said anyone who wanted to kill him knew where he was staying and they were welcome to come round any time.  He was quite distraught over the whole thing, and it broke his heart to be separated from his children.

    But eventually Uxbridge divorced Car (they had eight children together), and Char divorced Henry, and Uxbridge married Char.  Uxbridge’s career and social status were pretty much unaffected, of course, while Char was never fully accepted back into polite society again, because decent women did not leave their husbands.  Discrete affairs were all well and good, but divorce was unforgiveable.  I think Char ended up giving Uxbridge something like 10 more kids.

    There was some surprise when Wellington made Uxbridge (a man renowned for his almost suicidal bravery) his cavalry commander, in light of the fact that Uxbridge had cuckolded Wellington’s brother, but Wellington just laughed and said “don’t worry, Uxbridge won’t be carrying me off.”

    Oh, and Car, Uxbridge’s deserted wife?  She’d been having an affair with the Duke of Argyll the whole time (can’t remember if he was married) and after the divorce she became the Duchess of Argyll and their children went back and forth between their mother and father’s homes, calling both women Mamma and generally being raised as thoroughly modern children of a blended family.

    Char nursed Uxbridge back to health after he lost his leg and she was devoted to him for the rest of his life.

  26. 26
    tornadogrrrl says:

    Hooray for more DocTurtle.  I hope we can convince him to keep reviewing for a good long time.

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