An Infamous Army: The Alastair Trilogy, #3, by Georgette Heyer
Though she's loath to admit it, Judith Audley, wife of the Earl of Worth, would like to match her brother-in-law, Colonel Charles Audley, up with her young friend, Miss Lucy Devenish:
The Earl put up his quizzing-glass. "Ah! May I inquire, my love, whether you are making plans for Charles's future welfare?"
Down went the embroidery; her ladyship raised an indignant rueful pair of eyes to his face. "You are the most odious man that I have ever met!" she declared. "Of course I don't make plans for Charles! It sounds like some horrid, match-making Mama. How in the world did you guess?"
But her plans are upset when Charles has no interest in the quiet, sweet, proper Miss Devenish—no, it's the ravishing, fascinating and somewhat scandalous widow, Lady Barbara Childe, who gets his attention. Almost immediately, he proposes—and to her surprise, almost immediately, she accepts. Oh, but if it were only so easy! Lady Barbara wants to be sure that Charles knows exactly who and what he'll be marrying, so she sets out to prove just how awful she can be.
An Infamous Army is set in and around Brussels in the time leading up to and during the Battle of Waterloo. The young Alastairs—Lord Vidal*, Barbara, George and Harry, the grandchildren of Dominic, The Devil's Cub—all have their parts to play, but Barbara is the one to watch. She's a firecracker.
After reading the first two Alastair books, I thought I'd be in for another light, somewhat silly romp. I was wrong. The tone of the book was so different that I struggled a bit with the first half—there's quite a lot about Wellington's preparations for his inevitable battle with Napoleon, and that's just not my cuppa.
This is much more of a historical novel than a romance novel—the second half of the book includes a description of the Battle of Waterloo that had me sobbing. Sobbing. And yet, on occasion, it still made me laugh:
"Oh, we don't give a button for the cavalry!" replied Mercer. "The worst is this infernal cannonading. It plays the devil with us. We've been pestered by skirmishers, too, which is a damned nuisance. Only way I can stop my fellows wasting their charges on them is to parade up and down the bank in from of my guns. That's nervous work, if you like!"
Even though it totally wrecked me, the second half was also what did it for me. Her description of the battle was a pretty amazing piece of writing. I do think that the first half will improve on me upon a second reading—after actually reading about Waterloo, the preparations and lead up will be much more interesting. But it wasn't just the war element that made this a darker read—the romance itself was distinctly non-frothy. It's very different than the romance in the first two books. I honestly didn't know if it would work out between Charles and Babs. And at times, I didn't know if I wanted it to.
This story doesn't end in glittery rainbowed sparkly vampire kittens—it's much more muted, bittersweet and real. But as much as I loved the first two books in the trilogy, this is the one that will stay with me the longest.
According to Wikipedia, this book is a crossover with Regency Buck—so rather than moving on to the Inspector Hannasyde books, which was my original plan, I'm going to hunt that one down instead. I'm actually really excited to read it, because I adored the Audleys so I'm looking forward to reading about their courtship.
*Because, of course, Dominic became the Duke when my darling Justin died. (I assume at a very great age.)