I picked up this novel because I had enjoyed Stella Tillyard’s nonfiction, historical book Aristocrats. She wrote that history book as if it were a novel and I was engaged. As a trained historian, Tillyard’s research would not be in doubt for a book about the Napoleonic wars. Also coming off the Heyer’s A Civil Contract, these two books are set in the exact same time period and even share a few similarities in references to the setting.
While I was satisfied for the ending, I struggled to really enjoy a lot of this book. Do you ever get the sense that some books would be better read at another time in your life or another mood? There was something about this book that I wasn’t in the mood for at the beginning. Maybe i should have put it off longer. The more I read it, the more I realized that this is was not one of the better reads of recent times. Or maybe it was just a bad idea to read a historical novel about war. War and Peace showed me that I tend to glaze over the war parts of the novels. This one had its ugly, dark war moments too. That wouldn’t have been so bad if I had felt more for some of these characters.
There are a lot of characters, both real and fictional. I found it hard to feel or care for most of them until the very end. I couldn’t get a ‘hold’ on them. There were too many and there was
not enough time spent on them to really get a grips on their characterization, motivations and personalities until the very last pages. Some of them I didn’t even give a hoot about. I even became really annoyed with a couple of the characters, as it happens sometimes when indifference languishes on for most of a book. For example, the cast is mostly male and a lot of them are unfaithful jerks (historically accurate I guess?), and those that weren’t didn’t get enough focus in my opinion. I found myself glazing over certain narratives because of my lack of engagement with the characters.
With books and tv/movies, I don’t have to like the characters, but I have to find them interesting and engaging. I want to know more about them. It just seemed with this book, less would have been more in the number of characters. It would have been more pathos and events would have carried more impact if there were fewer of them.
All that said, I learned a couple of things from the history aspects of the novel so that is always good as I love the subject. Secondly, I did care about the endings to the females in the book so it was satisfying even though it was a bit depressing at times that I wondered how the book would end on a hopeful note. Thankfully, it did.
Read April 29th 2012.