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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Spanish Bride

The major difficulty I had while reading this book was a lack of understanding of the military terms and maneuvers and a very shallow knowledge (actually almost non-existent) of the Napoleonic wars. So I did not understand at least half the book. However, the rest - the interactions between the characters and the descriptions of the conditions tolerated by soldiers and their suffering in certain environments and battles - was easy enough to understand.

The Spanish Bride, by Georgette Heyer, starts off with the marriage of Brigade-Major Harry Smith and Juana. Juana is married at the tender age of fourteen. However, the marriage is not forced; Harry Smith and Juana fall in love almost on sight. Thankfully Harry Smith is only twenty three; if he had been in his thirties or forties, I think I would have abandoned the book then and there. Juana travels with Smith while he campaigns and does battle, sharing all the privations and inconveniences of army life. She is tough and determined, never complaining about what she has to face, or despairing because she has no contact with her Spanish family (I actually found this very strange. Juana is married at the age of fourteen - fourteen! - and loses contact with her family so totally that she is effectively orphaned, and she seems to forget all about them as soon as she is married. She doesn't as much as mention that she misses them). The book follows their life until the defeat of Napolean, with some very interesting insertions of what Wellington said and did at different times, and depictions of what his soldiers and generals thought of him.

Juana seemed strangely like a female lead from one of Eva Ibbotson's books - fiery, passionate, short-tempered, able to get on with just about anyone, almost able to talk to animals and sing with the birds. While hugely enjoying Ibbotson's books, I always had the idea that such women did not exist in the real world. If Heyer's portrayal is any accurate, it seems that Juana was hugely charming and charismatic - liked by everyone - and also very democratic, brave, and compassionate. Descriptions of her actions and words and interactions with Smith were entertaining and enjoyable. Harry Smith comes across as impetuous, brave, boyish, hot-tempered, and a little immature. The chemistry between the two is wonderful, and seems very real. There were also some very nice secondary characters, including Cadoux and George Simmons, some of Smith's superiors, and Smith's family.

There is a bias towards the English in describing the wars. I always have difficulty rejoicing when one side wins a battle in a book (especially when the battle has really occurred) because I am always thinking of the other side and its casualties. But despite the background, the book wasn't too heavy or depressing. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I understood the historical background and the military terms and maneuvers.