Monday, December 16, 2013

A Close Run Thing

Picture from Amazon
This weekend I finished reading A Close Run Thing, by Allan Mallison. Acquired thanks to the local library, it is a Napoleonic historical novel, which introduces the character of Coronet Mathew Hervey of the 6th Light Dragoons.  Hervey is a young man of somewhat limited means in the times of purchase (a system where officers bought their rank in the regiment).  The book opens in the waining days of the French Empire, as Wellington's army crosses into France, and the Emperor abdicates.  Hervey is then posted to Ireland, and returns to the Continent for the battle of Waterloo.

I was originally fairly taken by this book, and was preparing to write a positive review; however, I quickly realized that unlike, say Sharpe or Hornblower, Hervey has no flaws, other than a naive blindness to the motives of others.  In addition to processing no flaws, young Hervey marries into wealth, is the best horseman in his regiment, the best with a saber, knows horses better than the regimental vet, has the best batsman, the best sergeant, speaks French "like a native", has German, Latin, and Greek, can impressively debate strategy with Wellington, is an amazing shot with his amazing breach loading carbine, falls into money whenever required, and very fortuitous in his acquaintances.  There are more attributes, but you get the point. Hopefully this is rectified in later books (of which there are many), but by the end of this one I was ready for it to end, and have little to no desire to continue on with the rest.

In addition to flaws in writing, the book has a few factual errors. For example, much is made of a passage from Pride and Prejudice, and the book is attributed to Jane Austen, when in fact the book was published anonymously and Ms. Austen was not identified as the author until after her death in 1817.  Mr. Mallison also calls a flintlock "a firelock" many times in the book, when that term is usually reserved for a matchlock.

Flaws and annoyances aside, there are some interesting parts of this book, and there is certainly a lack of description of cavalry action in novels, so that aspect is welcome.  All in all though it is hard to recommend this book unless you really like your protagonists to be practically perfect in every way.

Here is a link to some reproduction light dragoon weapons, so you can get a feel for what the author tosses around.

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