What I’ve Read – July 2015

All my reading this month has been Regency or Regency-ish. Lots of Mary Balogh, carrying on with the Temeraire books, and two history books about Waterloo and a re-read of John Kincaid’s memoires…

Empire of Ivory – Naomi Novik (library e-book)

Laurence and Temeraire made a daring journey across vast and inhospitable continents to bring home a rare Turkish dragon from the treacherous Ottoman Empire.

Kazilik dragons are firebreathers, and Britain is in greater need of protection than ever, for while Laurence and Temeraire were away, an epidemic struck British shores and is killing off her greatest defence – her dragon air force is slowly dying.

The dreadful truth must be kept from Napoleon at all costs. Allied with the white Chinese dragon, Lien, he would not hesitate to take advantage of Britain’s weakness and launch a devastating invasion.

Hope lies with the only remaining healthy dragon – Temeraire cannot stay at home, but must once again venture into the unknown to help his friends and seek out a cure in darkest Africa

I love these books, I love the way they are written and the way that Laurence deals with things. Just lovely and because it ends badly, I immediately put the others on hold…

‘The Scum of the Earth’: What Happened to the Real British Heroes of Waterloo? – Colin Brown (library e-book)

The Scum of the Earth explores the common soldiers the Duke of Wellington angrily condemned as ‘scum’ for their looting at Vitoria, from their great victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 to their return home to a Regency Britain at war with itself. It follows men like James Graham, the Irishman hailed as the bravest man in the British Army for his heroic action in closing the north gate at Hougoumont, and fresh documentary evidence that he was forced to plead for charity because he was so poor; Francis Styles, who went to his grave claiming that he had captured the eagle that was credited to his superior officer; and John Lees, a spinner from Oldham who joined up at 15, braved shell and shot to deliver ammunition to the guns at Waterloo and was cut down four years later at the Peterloo Massacre by some of the cavalry with whom he served. All this is set against a backdrop of civil unrest on a scale unprecedented in British history. The Regency age is famous for its elegance, its exuberance, the industrial revolution that made Britain the powerhouse of Europe and the naval might that made it a global superpower. But it was also an age of riots and the fear that the mob would win control just as it had done in Paris. Britain came closer to bloody revolution than ever before or since, as ordinary men – including some of the men whom Wellington called the scum of the earth – took to the streets to fight for their voices to be heard in Parliament. The riots were put down by a series of repressive measures while Wellington stood like a bastion against the tide of history. He was defeated with the passage of the Great Reform Act in 1832. There is no one better placed to take a cold, hard look at the battle and its aftermath in order to save us from a bicentenary of misty-eyed backslapping than a former political editor with a reputation for myth busting. Colin Brown provides original research into the heroes of Waterloo and the myths that have clouded the real story

Colin Brown is not a fan of Wellington but his premise, that the ordinary soldiers at Waterloo were treated badly and that that Establishment didn’t really care about them or giving them a voice is true and he makes his case effectively.

Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles – Bernard Cornwall (library ebook)

On the 18th June, 1815 the armies of France, Britain and Prussia descended upon a quiet valley south of Brussels. In the previous three days the French army had beaten the British at Quatre-Bras and the Prussians at Ligny. The Allies were in retreat.

The blood-soaked battle of Waterloo would become a landmark in European history, to be examined over and again, not least because until the evening of the 18th, the French army was close to prevailing on the battlefield.

Now, brought to life by the celebrated novelist Bernard Cornwell, this is the chronicle of the four days leading up to the actual battle and a thrilling hour-by-hour account of that fateful day.

In his first work of non-fiction, Cornwell combines his storytelling skills with a meticulously researched history to give a riveting account of every dramatic moment, from Napoleon’s escape from Elba to the smoke and gore of the battlefields. Through letters and diaries he also sheds new light on the private thoughts of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington, as well as the ordinary officers and soldiers.

Published to coincide with the bicentenary in 2015, Waterloo is a tense and gripping story of heroism and tragedy – and of the final battle that determined the fate of Europe.

More Waterloo and a note that it doesn’t matter how often I read about British cavalry charge, I’m always thinking ‘turn back, don’t go for the guns’ every single time as if I could somehow stop them, 200 years after the fact! This is a really easy to read but at the same time detailed telling of the battle. Cornwall is even handed about the decisions made on both sides and you do really get the sense of how much of a ‘close run thing’ it was. Reading this I can’t help but see how what really won the battle (other than the Prussians arriving on time) was really about Wellington’s control of and presence on the battlefield. Wellington said that Napoleon was worth 40,000 men on the field but what strikes me is how little Napoleon was on the battlefield and little he did to turn the tide of the battle. Now you could (and Andrew Roberts certainly would) say that the Napoleon at Waterloo was not the same man who won at Austerlitz but it seems to me that he was. He was a general who relied on dash and élan to win. Wellington wasn’t loved by his men like Napoleon was but he was trusted. It seems to me that ultimately, that the French lost that battle because Napoleon was too sure of the genius of his plan, didn’t properly communicate his orders or adapt his plan when things changed.

Tales of the Rifle Brigade – John Kincaid (re-read owned)

To Napoleon’s troops, the sharp shooters of the 95th (Rifle) Regiment were ‘the rascals in green’, famed throughout Europe for their bravery, skill, and dash. Kincaid’s Adventures in the Rifle Brigade was the first book to be published by a veteran, recounting the amazing escapades of this legendary unit in the war against French armies in Portugal and Spain. His second volume, Random Shots From a Rifleman, is just as vivid and memorable as the first, and finishes with a remarkable first-hand description of the Waterloo campaign from the ordinary soldier’s point of view

Because I had a strange evening and needed comfort and Johnny Kincaid got a lot of mentions in Bernard Cornwall’s book and Johnny Kincaid is my idea of comfort reading.

The Escape – Mary Balogh (library book)

Only a Promise – Mary Balogh (library book)

Slightly Tempted – Mary Balogh (library book)

One Night for Love – Mary Balogh (library book)

A Summer to Remember – Mary Balogh (library book)

I’m working my way through these and I’m really enjoying them. Mostly Balogh doesn’t do villains, she does people who hurt and as a result act badly. I love the way that her characters all live in the same world and that the hero and heroine both learn and grow and change. They are such lovely books…

 Victory of Eagles – Naomi Novik (library e-book)

Laurence waits to be hanged as a traitor to the Crown, and Temeraire is confined to the breeding grounds as Napoleon invades Britain, and takes London.

Laurence and Temeraire have betrayed the British. They have foiled their attempts to inflict death upon the French dragons by sharing the cure they found in Africa with their enemy.

But following their conscience has a price. Laurence feels he must return to face the consequences, and as soon as they land they are taken into custody. Laurence is condemned to the gallows and Temeraire faces a life of captivity in the breeding grounds. None of their friends or allies can come to their aid, for every hand is needed elsewhere.

Britain is completely unprepared for Bonaparte invasion and the advanced tactics of his own celestial dragon – Temeraire’s mortal enemy – Lien

Tongues of Serpents – Naomi Novik (library e-book)

Convicted of treason and stripped of rank and standing, Temeraire and Lawrence are transported to the prison colony at New South Wales. With them travel three dragon eggs destined to be handed over to second-rate officers willing to accept so remote an assignment – including one former acquaintance, Captain Rankin, whose cruelty once cost a dragon its life.

They arrive at a young Australian colony in turmoil after the overthrow of the military governor, William Bligh – formerly Captain Bligh, late of HMS Bounty. Eager to escape the political quagmire, Laurence and Temeraire accept a mission to pioneer a route through the forbidding Blue Mountains and into the interior of Australia. But when one of the dragon eggs is stolen, the surveying expedition becomes a desperate race to recover it before the dragonet hatches – a race that leads to a shocking discovery and a dangerous new obstacle in the global war between Britain and France.

Crucible of Gold – Naomi Novik (library e-book)

Former Aerial Corps captain Will Laurence and his faithful dragon, Temeraire, have been put out to pasture in Australia – and it seems their part in the war has ended just when they are needed most.

The French have invaded Spain, forged an alliance with Africa’s powerful Tswana empire, and brought revolution to Brazil. With Britain’s last desperate hope of defeating Napoleon in peril, the government that sidelined Laurence swiftly offers to reinstate him, convinced that he’s the best man to enter the fray and negotiate peace. So the pair embark for Brazil, only to meet with a string of unmitigated disasters that forces them to make an unexpected landing in the hostile territory of the Incan empire.

I read these books one after another and I’m still gripped by them. As they progress Novik has really started to build her world and change things up from the actual history. That being said, I felt that her interpretation of Wellington (and Napoleon) was recognisable, that the way the books are written feels Regency and I’m loving that we’re getting more of an insight into how Temeraire (and dragons) think. I can’t recommend these highly enough and they are books I want to own, I have one more on hold and the last one ever is out next year.

Getting Lucky: Sapphire Falls Six – Erin Nichols (borrowed from Ruth)

Out of Bounds: The Boys of Fall (borrowed from Ruth)

The Sweetest September – Liz Tally (borrowed from Ruth)

Ruth reads a lot and if she’s read something she really likes, they get given to me. I read all of these on a rainy Sunday afternoon with occasional stops for bread making. Perfect.

About nicdempsey

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