Tides of War by Stella Tillyard

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Tides of War by Stella Tillyard

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A wonderful historical novel set in 1812, following the Duke of Wellington and Captain James Raven across Europe during the Peninsular War whilst their wives fight their own battles at home.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: May 2011
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
ISBN: 978-0701183172

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Longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012

When a scholarly historian turns a hand to fiction, complications can follow. Sometimes the result is a dry work of proud, thinly disguised research, where all discerned information is hurled at the page. Sometimes the demonstrated research levels are just right, but the characterisation is more reminiscent of cardboard cut outs than real people. However, if the historian is Stella Tillyard, cited as being phenomenally gifted by none other than Simon Schama, there's no need for concern. Tides of War is an engrossing, sweeping epic of a novel.

Set between the years of 1812 and 1815, during the Peninsular War, the novel mainly revolves around four people: the fictional Captain James and Mrs Harriet Raven and the factual Arthur and Kitty Wellesley (aka Mr and Mrs Duke of Wellington). The men go off to fight (amongst other activities) across Europe whilst the women become firm friends and show that, even in the 19th century, sisters were indeed doing it for themselves. Where Kitty is concerned, she sets out to devise a method of surviving the rest of her marriage with the overbearing and unreasonable Wellington. I know one mustn't judge historical figures by modern standards, but I'm easily swayed, especially witnessing Kitty having to accommodate Wellington's little slip-ups. Harriet, on the other hand, follows her passion for science into an unforeseen direction, whilst trying to solve the mystery of her missing mother.

Stella Tillyard's skill doesn't end there, though. She shows us an era of discovery that seamlessly links with our modern world. There is a lovely scene in which banker Nathaniel Rothschild explains to Kitty his idea of making money by selling on shares he doesn't actually own yet. Yes, indeed, these are the seeds of today's banking crisis. This panoramic work also shows us the birth of industrial scale gas supply and lighting (credit to the author for making this sound more interesting than I can!) and the initial experiments that would lead to blood group discovery, each fact embroidered into the fabric of the story so it's not out of place.

The discoveries are fascinating but the unrelenting backdrop to this is the war. Each England-bound character has to fight their own corner against different forms of betrayal, but the author doesn't veer away from those facing actual combat. In fact war is covered in all its negativity: war that allows some to profit, allows some to learn, suiting some and maiming others for life (and not always physically). No atrocities are dwelt on, by the way, ensuring that this remains a good read for even the most squeamish.

This novel may be billed as a romance, but this is no Mills and Boone. The love stories are just the side dish. The main course is an engrossing three year span of the Regency period, seasoned brutal posturing and 21st century resonance. Hopefully this is the first of many novels from Ms Tillyard but, whilst we're waiting to find out, there's always her non-fiction waiting to be explored. Personally, I feel rather tempted.

I would like to thank the publisher for supplying Bookbag with a copy of this book.

If you've enjoyed this and would like to follow the author into the world of non-fiction, try A Royal Affair: George III and His Troublesome Siblings.

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Buy Tides of War by Stella Tillyard at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tides of War by Stella Tillyard at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Tides of War by Stella Tillyard at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tides of War by Stella Tillyard at Amazon.com.


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