Review: Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell

waterloo by bernard cornwellFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: military history
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: May 5, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

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 ahead of the upcoming 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.

My Review:

To meet one’s Waterloo, has become almost a cliché, a byword for meeting one’s final or ultimate defeat.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David, 1812
The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David, 1812

The term, as well as all of the cities and towns named Waterloo, come from one singular battle – the place where Napoleon Bonaparte met his own personal and political Waterloo at the hands of the Duke of Wellington.

Today, June 18, is the 200th anniversary of that battle. While a cannon’s weight of books have been published this year to commemorate the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo, I wanted to pick just a couple to hopefully expand my understanding of what happened that day.

It is a difficult thing for an author, any author, to build excitement and anticipation into a story where we already know how it ends. Wellington won, Napoleon was finally and ultimately defeated.

The story of the Battle of Waterloo, at least as told by Bernard Cornwell, is a story where we know the ending, more or less, but it is the middle that is obscured, both at the time and even 200 years later.

Or perhaps especially 200 years later, as there has been plenty of time for myths, legends, obfuscations and half-truths to find their own little corner of that field.

As the battle was taking place, a lot of the confusion can be blamed on the fog of war. In that battle, and in that era, it was at least partially a real fog, the smoke from the hundreds of cannons and howitzers, and from the tens of thousands of muskets, all seemingly firing at once at obscuring the participants’ view of anything not immediately next to them.

What we all know is that Napoleon escaped from his exile on the Island of Elba, was declared Emperor again, and marched on Brussels. He intended to retake Belgium, which had been severed from the French Empire after his earlier defeat.

The Duke of Wellington, by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Painted in 1814, a few months before the Battle of Waterloo.
The Duke of Wellington, by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Painted in 1814, a few months before the Battle of Waterloo.

Wellington met him at Waterloo, and eventually defeated Napoleon after three days of bloody battle. Napoleon retreated, and finally surrendered to the British, who promptly exiled him to Saint Helena, where he remained until his death.

This book of Waterloo is an attempt to bring coherence to all of the various eyewitness and survivor accounts of what was a long, hard-fought and ultimately confusing battle fought on multiple fronts by multiple armies over a lot of churned up and muddy ground.

Everything was important, from the drenching rain and mud, to the stone farmhouses and barns that dotted the region, to the tempers of the commanders and the trust (or lack thereof) between the armies.

Even the style of the various commands – where Napoleon led from the rear and delegated everything and Wellington, who seems to have led from everywhere at once and delegated nothing to Blücher, the Prussian general who came to Wellington’s aid, who fought while wounded and at the age of 73, pressing ever forwards in the midst of his men.

The personal accounts are often humorous, in the sense of gallows humor that war brings out in both fact and fiction. Some of the survivor’s’ accounts contradict each other, as they each only saw or heard one tiny sliver of a massive campaign.

Cornwell brings the disparate sources into a coherent whole, and gives even someone with only an extremely casual interest in military history and tactics a sense of what happened and why it happened.

Even though I knew how it ended, finding out how they got there was fascinating.

Escape Rating A-: Waterloo is a battle that was such a turning point in history that we all know how it ended. One of the things that this book does well is to make the reader see how easily it could have gone the other way. Actually, several other ways.

One has the feeling that the contest turned out to be between Napoleon’s overconfidence and Wellington’s ability to pick his ground and utilize it to the fullest extent. Wellington found a place that he could defend, and then settled his troops in to defend it.

Blücher as he appeared (ca. 1815–1819)
Blücher as he appeared (ca. 1815–1819)

We also see the fruits of the trust between Wellington and the Prussian General Blücher, which may have been unlikely (and one of Blücher’s aides hated Wellington) but saved the day.

The descriptions of the way that artillery worked and how it did what it did give the reader an awful sense of just how deadly they were, even if they were damnably difficult to aim. I also finally understand the different infantry formations for the first time.

The author describes the calculus of warfare as a deadly game of rock, paper, scissors, and the analogy works very well.

This is not the only book this author has written titled Waterloo. In his Sharpe’s series, there is a fictional book about the battle and Sharpe’s participation in it. The Napoleonic Wars, including the Battle of Waterloo, have been used as a backdrop in fiction in virtually every genre.

You may have read about the Napoleonic Wars and Waterloo without even realizing it.

In science fiction, David Weber’s Honor Harrington series is the Napoleonic Wars as fought between star empires. In Naomi Novik’s Temeraire, the Napoleonic Wars are fought with dragons. In C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr series, the titular character finds himself aiding the police as a way of dealing with his own PTSD after Waterloo. Stephanie Laurens’ Bastion Club features a group of men who were English spies in France during the Wars, and now that the war is over, have discovered that one of their greatest foes is operating in England.

Last, but certainly not least, the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian details a naval officer’s career during the heady years of the Napoleonic Wars.

So for even an inveterate fiction reader, Waterloo and the Wars that it ended have a tremendous influence on so many works that came after. Reading so many things that are set in or influenced by the era, it is easy to think that we know all we need to know.

Bernard Cornwell’s non-fiction account of Waterloo shows us just how much depth there is to explore.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Interview with Regan Walker + Giveaway

I’m very pleased to welcome Regan Walker to Reading Reality today. She’s here to talk about her debut novel, Racing With the Wind. It’s a peek into a fascinating historical period, the time after the Napoleonic Wars, and a look into the deadly spy game through the eyes of a very unusual couple. I’m glad it’s the start of a trilogy (take a look at my review for the full scoop).

Let’s hear from Regan about her journey from lawyer to author.

Marlene: Regan, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Regan: Sure. I live in San Diego, which I fondly refer to as “Paradise.” I have one son who is now out of the nest and has left me his Golden Retriever who is my constant companion. (Love the one who feeds you, right?) Though I have lived other places, I am really a creature of the West. As far as Romance writing goes, I am a new author and I love the creative side of it. Research for me is fun, diving into the past a joy. So much of my writing in the past was associated with my career in law this is a welcome change. I have traveled extensively, both for pleasure and business and I like to give my readers a sense of another place in my stories. I want them to experience adventure, too, as well as a love story.

Marlene: Why historical romance? And what attracted you to this period in particular. Why choose the period after the Napoleonic Wars are over and not during the war, for example?

Regan: Well, when I discovered Romance novels, rather late, I must say, the ones I loved most were historical novels. I think it’s because they actually taught me something. I like the deep ones that actually have history in them, not some vague historical setting. When I decided to write one, I knew I wanted to write Regency. The Napoleonic Wars are, for the most part, before that time. However, I have a prequel in mind for the Agents of the Crown trilogy that will take place in 1784, so I guess I’ll get to that time period eventually. The reason I chose the year 1816 for this first novel is that it was an interesting time in Paris. King Louis XVII had returned to the French throne but the allied troops still occupied the country and there was fear of yet another tumultuous time in France. The streets of Paris saw violence in some quarters and that made for a likely setting for some of my scenes. It was just the place a young English bluestocking could get into trouble. Besides, who doesn’t love a trip to Paris? Some of my readers have commented that they loved being there during the 19th century through my book.

Marlene:  Would you like to share with us a little about what kinds of research you had to do for the book?

Regan: As Virginia Henley once told me, “Research is my passion.” It’s mine, too. For this novel I dove into all things Napoleon. While he isn’t a character, he is talked about by the characters throughout the book. His imprint on Paris at the time is discussed and in some cases, lamented. For the Prologue and other scenes, I had to know something about Napoleon’s defeat in Russia in 1812. For many scenes, I had to understand what buildings of state were open in 1816. Two of my scenes are set in Notre Dame, though I had at first wanted them in the Sainte-Chapelle church in Paris, as it’s one of my favorites. However, my research disclosed it was closed in 1816 for renovation. For one dining scene, I communicated with the famous restaurant La Tour d’Argent to ascertain if they were serving their current specialty, duck, in 1816. They weren’t, so I had to change the menu. I also had to understand what books my bluestocking heroine might read in 1816. And, of course, some of my characters are real, historic figures. Germaine de Stael is one of those and I had to learn much about her to make the character seem genuine. In the end, my novel is better for those kind of details.

Marlene:  Some readers might think that Lady Mary is a bit ahead of her time. Did you have a model for her character?

Regan: I draw upon many people I’ve known for my characters, but I believe that there have always been women like Lady Mary. As my Author’s Note at the end of the book indicates, we know that even during the Regency, there were women who rode their horse astride, some even in men’s clothing. And Germaine de Stael, a real figure and a character in my novel, is an intelligent woman who was respected by government leaders, even Napoleon. She is very much like an older version of Lady Mary (minus the promiscuous behavior). So I do not agree she was ahead of her time. She was a rebel. There have always been rebels.

Marlene:  Is there a story behind your decision to become a writer? Who or what influenced your decision?

Regan: Yes, there is a story. I dedicated the book to my best friend who encouraged me to write it. And, with her permission, I modeled Lady Mary’s best friend, Elizabeth, after her. Before I was a writer of historical romance, I was an avid reader. When I discussed the books with my friend and told her I could often see scenes in my head that foreshadowed the events in the books I was reading, she said, “You are an author!”

Marlene:  What was the first moment you knew you wanted to write?

Regan: If you’re speaking of historical romance, it would be the day my best friend and I were standing in my kitchen and she said, “You need to write one,” and I said, “I will!” Really it was that simple.

Marlene:  Describe a typical day of writing. Are you a planner or a pantster?

Regan: Unlike some authors, I don’t write all day. I still practice law part time so some mornings I work. I then do some social media and usually settle down to write after lunch. Some of my best scenes come to me late at night and I keep a pad by my bed to write those down when they come to me. I am both a planner and a pantster. Usually at the outset, I have the first few scenes and the last scene. I know where the book is going. But in the middle I’m a pantster. I call it the “mire of the middle” as it is always a difficult place for me.

Marlene:  Will there be more books in this series? What is next on your schedule?

Regan: Yes, it’s a trilogy—The Agents of the Crown—all stories of British agents or spies working directly for the Prince Regent on “special assignments.” I am nearly done with the second, Martin’s story, Against The Wind, which takes place in the Midlands of England and features the Pentrich Rebellion of 1817. I am hoping it will be out by early 2013. Then next follows his brother, Nick’s story, Wind Raven, which takes place on his schooner and in the Caribbean. Nick is a rakish sea captain who meets his match in an American girl he is forced to take on as a passenger. And if I don’t get diverted to my medieval that I’m half finished with, I’ll next write the prequel, tentatively titled On Fair Winds, which will be set in France (mostly) in 1784. It’s is the love story of Martin and Nick’s parents, a most interesting couple.

Marlene:  Now can you tell us 3 reasons why people should read and why?

Regan: My mother taught me to read when I was 4 and told me I could travel the world through books. She was not wrong. Reading will take your mind to another place, whether it is to the world of ideas or the world of adventure and love. Why limit yourself to one life when, through books, you can live many? I love historical biographies and many have inspired me. You can also travel through books. I’ve traveled to over 40 countries and travel guides are some of my favorite books. For all of those reasons, I have never stopped reading, though now much of my recreational reading is historical romance for my blog (Regan’s Romance Reviews,

Marlene:  What book do you recommend everyone should read and why?

Regan: That one is easy—the Bible. It will change your life, both this one and the next one.

Marlene:  Morning person or night owl?

Regan: Night owl. However, some of my jobs have forced me to rise with the birds and when I’m in that groove, I rise early out of forced habit. But it takes very little for me to stay up late. It’s some of my most creative time, too. And that is why it is easier for me to fly west, rather than east.

Regan, I am so with you on the flying west. It is absolutely easier. And I can always stay up later. Maybe too much later. Especially if I’m reading a good book. Thank you so much for staying up late (or getting up early) to answer all my questions!

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Review: Racing With The Wind by Regan Walker

Format read: ebook received from the publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genre: historical romance
Series: Agents of the Crown #1
Length: 266 pages
Publisher: Boroughs Publishing Group
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance

The intrepid daughter of an earl leaves Regency London for the Parisian court of Louis XVIII, where she finds adventure, mystery, and above all, love.

Hugh Redgrave, marquess of Ormond, was warned. Prinny had dubbed Lady Mary Campbell “the Swan,” but no ordinary man could clip her wings. She was a bluestocking hellion, an ill-advised match by every account. Luckily, he sought no bride. His work lay on the continent, where he’d become legend by stealing war secrets from Boney. And yet, his memories of Lady Mary riding her stallion were a thorn in his mind. He was the son of a duke and in the service of the Prince Regent…and he would not be whole until he had won her hand.

It was unheard of for a Regency debutante to postpone her first season, yet Lady Mary had done just that. Far more interested in politics than a husband, she had no time for foolishness or frippery. Already she had assisted her statesman uncle in Paris, and she swore to return to the court of Louis XVIII no matter the danger. Like her black stallion, Midnight, she would always run free. Only the truest heart would race beside her.

Regan Walker’s Racing With the Wind is not your typical Regency romance. But then, Lady Mary Campbell is not your typical Regency romance heroine, either. Not from the minute she comes galloping into the story, and Hugh Redgrave’s life, riding astride her stallion Midnight.

And that pretty much defines Mary. She rides in men’s clothing, she doesn’t ride sidesaddle, and she’s riding a stallion. And just about from the first minute he meets her, Hugh Redgrave, Marquess of Ormond, spends most of his time in Mary’s company trying, and generally failing, to suppress his desire to either tame Mary Campbell, or simply suppress his desire to have her ride him like that stallion.

Besides the obvious, there’s another reason that Hugh keeps trying to tame Mary, or at least rein her in a little. She keeps getting herself into trouble.

Not little trouble, not minor peccadilloes. This is not your standard Regency. There are no drawing room scandals. Mary’s uncle is one of the English envoys to France in the years just after Waterloo. Mary has traveled with him on his business with the French government, and she has been very helpful on his mission. While the French, (and the Prussians, and the Austrians) don’t think she’s paying attention, Mary makes a very good spy.

The Prince Regent thinks she’s wonderful. Hugh Redgrave thinks she’s dangerous. And he should know. He really IS a spy. During the war the French knew him as “The Nighthawk”. Now that the war is over, he still does occasional “work” for Prinny. Hugh is having a difficult time settling down to his noble duties now that the excitement of the war is over.

Attempting to keep Mary out of trouble in Paris provides all the excitement that Hugh could possibly need. And more. Mary’s investigations uncover a French double agent and an Austrian plot to restore Napoleon (again). Her life is threatened more than once.

To save Mary, her uncle entrusts her to Hugh, sending them on a cross-country journey by horseback through the French countryside, alone and unchaperoned. He hopes they will finally see what everyone else already knows, that they are perfect for one another.

Running from safe-house to safe-house with the hounds of three countries on their heels  forces Hugh and Mary to confront the simmering sexual tension that has driven them to distraction every time they have crossed paths. But just when they think everything is resolved, there is one last obstacle to overcome

Escape Rating B: This story took a long time to get itself set up, nearly half the book. Once all the pieces were finally in place on the chess board, the action was fast and furious, and I couldn’t put it down, but the first half needed a bit of tightening. Some of these preliminaries were necessary to set the historic backdrop, and this is book one of a trilogy, but still…

The concept of this story, two spies who fall for each other, reminded me of Shana Galen’s Lord and Lady Spy, although this is the “before” version, since Hugh and Mary know what they are before they marry. It also reminded me of the historic parts of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series. The Napoleonic War period and its aftermath seems to be fertile ground for spy-type love stories.

One part of the story I very much enjoyed was that Hugh and Mary compromised on what would and wouldn’t be acceptable for both of them. They had not led conventional lives, and would not be content doing so. They each recognized that was part of what they needed in the other one, and that changing too much would destroy their relationship. She did not become a simpering twit, and he did not become a boring idiot.

I do want to read the next book in the series. This period is always fascinating!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.