Monday, 2 May 2011


Genre:  Historical Fiction
Published by:  Chatto & Windus  (5 May 2011)
Pages:  368  (Hardback)
My Rating:  9/10

About the Book:

At the heart of this sweeping panoramic novel, set in Regency London and Spain during the Peninsular War, stands the lively, outspoken Harriet, poised on the threshold of the adult world.  Her new husband, James, is setting off to join the Duke of Wellington’s troops in Spain.
Left in London, she is taken under the wing of Kitty, Lady Wellington.
While the women plunge into new worlds of politics, finance and science, the men face the bloody reality of the battlefield.
There are betrayals on both sides.
Their dramatic stories whirl us through the tumult of the Regency at home and abroad.

Harriet’s life in London, while her new husband is away fighting, is interspersed with James’ life in Spain fighting under Lord Wellington.  

She attends lectures at the Royal Institution, where she meets and makes friends with Frederick Winsor whose National Light and Heat Company hopes to light the country with new coal gas lamps. She loves chemistry and thought that “sewing, with its thimbles and delicate thread, had none of the satisfactions of chemistry.  A pastime was just that.  Chemistry, or astronomy, changed the world”.
She also tries to discover why her mother left her when she was just a baby but finds that no-one is forthcoming when she asks them.

There was a real feeling of how London was in those days, the sights and smells were especially detailed, as this paragraph from page 237 describes -

One morning in late April ….... she walked to the water’s edge.  Down the narrow cut at Bull Wharf she watched the shallow waves turn over on the shore.  An easterly breeze carried the smell of fish and a tang of salt upriver from Billingsgate Market …... the water’s slap and suck mixed with human voices, gulls’ cries and the rumble of carts over London Bridge.  The river was a brown-blue, laced with grey at its edges.  As far as Kitty could see downriver the rust-red sails of London barges and a lattice of masts and spars stood out against the sky.

Not a word is wasted, not a sentence is written without thought.  I devoured it slowly, savouring every detail.  I felt that Stella Tillyard really got into the minds and thoughts of the characters ….. of which there were many!  From the highest -- Lord Wellington -- to the lowest -- Thomas Orde, who is an out of work weaver and James’ servant in the battlefields.   We got to know them, how they felt as the war was progressing and how it affected them afterwards.

The battlefield scenes seemed authentic without being too graphic, and I was fascinated with the attempts by Dr. McBride to perform a blood transfusion on one of the wounded soldiers.  I wondered if that was based on fact or whether it was a fictional scene.  

Recommended for any historical fiction fan, this book has everything you would want and more!

I've just found this wonderful interview with Stella here ..... recently in

Stella Tillyard's earlier books are non-fiction, including the wonderful Aristocrats which I listened to several years ago. This is her first novel.  Her website is here

Sharon at Jera's Jamboree has also read this book - check out her fab review here


  1. I wondered about the blood transfusion as well and came to the conclusion that it would have had to have happened 'experimentally' and whoever discovered it, must have been a eureka moment! As with all experiments as well, I think animals would have played a large part in finding out about blood types :(

    Lovely review Carole. Interesting to read another person's perception.

  2. Yes, I think you're probably right about the experimentation. Knowing what we know now about different blood types, the doctor was SO lucky!
    Thanks for your kind comment, it is interesting to read how someone else interprets the same book.

  3. Sounds interesting.
    thanks for the review




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