The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer
Paperback: 496 pages
Based on the true story of Brigade-Major Harry Smith and the very young Spanish noblewoman he met and married during the Peninsular Wars, when the Duke of Wellington’s forces fought Napoleon’s army in Spain and Portugal.
After marrying Harry Smith when she was 14 years old, Juana Smith “followed the drum,” marching at the back of the troops along with the other wives and the officers’ servants. Juana became a camp favorite, charming all with her youthful enthusiasm.
In spite of the danger, Juana thrived on military life and her passionate, if somewhat stormy, relationship with Harry.
If you're looking for a 'love conquers all' kind of read, then this has your name all over it. But if you're looking for a light, fluffy read, this ain't it.
By the end of this novel, I had mixed feelings about it. It's a Heyer novel, that alone should have guaranteed I would love it. But I can't say that I did, not entirely. Don't get me wrong. This is one fantastically detailed and descriptive story of a woman following her man into war. The romance is charming, the growing love of Harry and Juana is endearing, sometimes the only pleasure in a novel that reads more like a military history than anything else.
Not that I don't like military history. I've been known to read all sorts of novels and I never give up just because it's tough to understand. But here, with ceaseless long marches and confusing details, I had trouble following the narrative. Two reasons for that. One, due to my own lack of the actual historical events that form the background of this novel, viz Wellington's Peninsular campaign during the Napoleonic era. But even this would not have been a problem had there been maps or diagrams or even an appendix at the end to help a reader along. Lacking this, I was hopelessly lost by the end of the first chapter. The only reason I persevered was so I could find out what happens to this young couple. Do they make it out alive, does their impetuous love and marriage survive brutal war conditions etc etc.
Heyer puts her considerable talents to good use and you can almost smell the gunpowder coming off of the pages. Her descriptions of the army's march under desperate circumstances, a victorious army's looting and pillaging, the civilians' plight caught between opposing forces, the life of the women who follow the drum, the constant danger and outmaneuvering of the armed forces by generals such as Wellington, are such as to keep one's eyes glued to the pages, eager to know the outcome.
I liked this novel for how Heyer showed herself capable of writing a novel with serious overtones. However it is not going on my keeper shelf.
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