An Infamous Army: A Novel of Love, War, Wellington and Waterloo by Georgette Heyer.
Sourcebooks, 2007 (originally published in 1937)
This was my first Georgette Heyer novel, and I'm happy to report that it won't be my last.
An Infamous Army opens in a drawing room in Brussels, in the midst of a conversation between a group of people who know each other very well--some, I understand from reading other reviews of this book, who feature in other Heyer novels. It takes a while to sort out all of them and their relationships to each other, and the effort may be too much for some readers. But perseverance is well rewarded.
The love story here is between Lady Barbara Childe, a young widow with a penchant for shocking high society, and Colonel Charles Audley, who is instantly attracted to her and loses no time in asking her to marry him. They're both vividly realized, and Heyer does an especially good job in making us like Barbara, who could have been irritating in the wrong hands. The supporting cast, including both historical and fictitious figures, is equally memorable.
Heyer has often been mentioned as the author one goes to when one runs out of Jane Austen novels to read. There are indeed some deft turns of prose here, such as this one by Barbara after she becomes the subject of a public snub: "By tomorrow I shall be credited with a sin I haven't committed, which touches my pride, you know. I always give the scandalmongers food for their gossip." Heyer also manages one of the most moving, yet not maudlin, death scenes I have ever read.
Readers expecting a formula Regency romance novel won't find one here; Heyer takes the reader both to drawing rooms and to battlefields, and the cost of the latter is vividly depicted. This is a love story with a punch.