Reviews: Fiction

Alone with Glory

By Peter Youds

Youds, Peter. Alone with Glory. Bingham, UK: Bicorn Books, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-9559079-0-6 230 pages. £7.99

Alone with Glory is the first book in a new series called “Ties of Blood”.  It follows the adventures and misadventures of two half-brothers, both officers in the British Army in 1808.  Tom Herryck is a newly commissioned lieutenant in the Royal Engineers with a knack for blowing things up.  His much older brother, Robert Blunt, is a captain in the fashionable 52nd Foot – a light infantry regiment that would become part of the famous British Light Division.  Herryck is from a well-to-do family and never lacked for much, while Blunt is the bastard son of Herryck’s father.  Lieutenant Herryck is green and very unworldly, while his brother is the cynic, who has seen too much and is barely scraping by on his army pay.

The story opens with Lieutenant Herryck arriving in Cadiz and runs afoul of a local Grandee who decides to kill him.  He has to flee for life, hoping to link up with the British Army in Portugal.  After many misadventures along the way, Herryck arrives in Salamanca, but is kidnapped by Spanish patriots who want to show him the true state of the Spanish Army.  Herryck wanders through much of northern Spain, gathering intelligence on the French and eventually bringing information to General Moore that prevents the British Army from being trapped and destroyed.  Herryck returns to his role as a Royal Engineer to assist the Army during its retreat to Coruña.  He is in his element blowing up bridges and buildings. 

Captain Blunt, Lieutenant Herryck’s brother, is the hard-bitten infantry officer. He has the misfortune of being a competent officer, with no connections and little money, in one of the most fashionable regiments in the army, where promotion is slow.  Blunt knows his prospects for advancement are slim and looks for ways to better his position.  He sees his appointment to General Beresford’s staff to help train the Portuguese Army as a way of getting ahead.  Yet it is not to be. 

Over the years, he has served with many different officers, including General Moore, the commander of the British Army in Portugal.  When Moore finds out that Blunt is in Portugal, he attaches him to his headquarters and soon Blunt is marching into Spain to fight the French Army.  General Moore uses Captain Blunt in a variety of roles, during one of which he is seriously wounded.  Blunt ends up commanding a detachment of invalid soldiers and marches them through the mountains of northern Spain to link up with the main British Army.  During the arduous journey, Captain Blunt has to deal with marauding French soldiers, British deserters, and Spanish guerrillas.  Blunt succeeds in holding his command together and the story ends with the climatic battle of Coruña, where both Blunt and Herryck play a key role

For the casual reader, many of the adventures that happen to Herryck and Blunt are too swashbuckling to have any factual basis.  However, much of what occurs is based on actual events.  In many ways, Herryck is the predecessor of the British Observing Officer.  During the Peninsular War, Wellington had over a dozen Observing officers ranging throughout Spain, providing him with strategic information on the French army.  Herryck’s saving of the British Army is based on the exploits of Captain John Waters, one of the first Observing Officers.  It was Captain Waters’ timely arrival with a captured dispatch that convinced General Moore that the British Army was marching into a trap.  Lieutenant Herryck’s successful and unsuccessful attempts to blow up various bridges and buildings during the retreat to Coruña, are also based on fact. 

It is rare for me to read a historical novel that does not contain factual errors.  Alone with Glory is no exception.  There are a few errors that will catch the eye of the discerning reader.  Unfortunately, the most egregious is in the first few pages, when he has his main character, an officer in the 52nd Foot, armed with a rifle.  It is well into the book, before the author explains why the officer and the sergeant, who do not belong to the 95th Rifles, are carrying them. Yet even his explanation is a bit weak.  When I read a novel on our era, I look for historical accuracy.  The more glaring the error, the harder it is for me to get into the book.  To have such an error at the very beginning of the book made me skeptical until I reached the explanation.  The author also has a bit of trouble identifying the different headgear the soldiers wore, at times calling a shako and a Tarleton a busby.  He also had the main character observe a regiment of French cuirassiers in the invading army, which were not in Spain until much later in the war.  That being said, these factual errors are very minor, when compared to the superb job Peter Youds in getting the major historical events right. 

Alone with Glory is an enjoyable read, with likeable characters and despicable villains.  It moves at a fast pace and leaves the reader with an accurate picture of the confusion and hardships of the British army during the Coruña campaign of late 1808 and early 1809.  Peter Youds has begun to fill the gap that was left when Bernard Cornwall branched out into other periods.  I look forward to the next book in the series.

Alone with Glory can only be bought directly through the author’s website:  Bicorn Books.  

Reviewed by Robert Burnham

Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2009


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