The Campaigners (Morland Dynasty #14)

In stories and songs, Rosamund thought, battles end with the victors in possession of the field and the enemy in flight—glorious, victorious; cheering, singing; trumpets, drums and banners; maidens lining the streets and throwing flowers to the smiling soldiers as they march by.

The songs and stories didn’t tell about the waking day after day to the realisation of grief—your own, and other people’s. . . . They didn’t tell about the white-faced women hanging around Headquarters waiting for the lists, the lists; the Belgians tugging at every returning soldier’s sleeve, asking for news: Did you know my husband, my son? Have you seen him? Did you see him fall?

The stories didn’t tell about the wounded, more and more of them coming in every day, and the dead going out on the carts to the war graves; and the convalescents, hobbling round the streets, sitting on steps, staring at you with their haunted eyes; bandaged stumps and bandaged hands, torn faces, missing eyes, missing noses, missing ears. You never heard, either, of the deserters and stragglers who thronged the town, looting and drinking and destroying property, robbing even the wounded, who were too weak to cry out or to offer resistance.

No-one ever mentioned the battleground, either, after the proud moment of victory. But it existed—oh yes!

The Campaigners, the 14th book in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’s Morland Dynasty series, finds the bulk of the Morland family in Brussels at the Battle of Waterloo. Several of the Morland men have joined the fight against Napoleon, and Lucy has determined that with all the young men having gone to war, the only way for her daughter Rosamund to have a proper coming out ball is for her to be where the men are. Lucy invites Héloïse to bring her daughter Sophie to Brussels as well so the two girls can be launched into society together.

The campaign of the title could refer to any one of three threads: the campaign against Napoleon, obviously; the campaign to find a suitable husband; and the campaign to expand the Morland estate to include the mills owned by James Morland’s father-in-law. The first half of the book focuses on the husband hunt, with Rosamund and Sophie meeting many eligible men and trying to weigh monetary concerns with the desires of their hearts and hoping that their mothers will consent to their desired matches. This storyline alternates with the minor thread involving the expansion of the Morland estate, a question which comes down to the precise time Mr. Hobspawn, James’s father-in-law, died. The second half of the book is devoted almost entirely to the Battle of Waterloo.

I’ve praised Cynthia Harrod-Eagles before for her ability to write battle scenes. These kinds of scenes are challenging for me to read, both because the subject matter is upsetting and because I find troop movements difficult to follow. In this book, however, the battle scenes were absolutely gripping. This is partly because I’ve grown to care about the particular people involved, but I think much of it is due to Harrod-Eagles’s skill as a storyteller. She carefully places characters at different spots in the battle so her readers can get a global view of the battle, but within each scene, she focuses closely on the individual character’s experience. Here, for example, is a glimpse of the battle from the point of view of Major Larosse, one of the men who has become involved with the Morland family:

Larosse’s sword was in his hand, though he had no recollection of having drawn it. His horse was quivering under him, snorting in fright and shock. The pungent reek of gunpowder smoke overlaid the friendly farmyard smells of hay and manure now—and his horse could probably smell blood, too. A French officer was riding at him, arm upraised. Now there was no more thought, only slash and parry; controlling the horse with knees and spurs and tight left hand, wheeling its muscular panic this way and that; looking about him in quick glances for the situation and his own safety.

Turn—slash—parry; grinding scrape of steel on steel, setting his teeth on edge; yielding his flesh to steel, sickening, oh yes, even after all these years! There was still firing; and men shouting, hoarse, shapeless shouts which splurged out of their mouths senselessly as they jabbed and struggled.

And men running now. Stem the flood!

This is no glorious tale of heroism, although heroic deeds are done. It is a story of the horrors of war. I haven’t read much of anything about Waterloo, so I don’t know how accurate Harrod-Eagles’s account is as far as strategies and troop movements goes, but the ugliness and terror feel real.

This is my favorite Morland book so far, by a long shot. I’m not sure how well it would stand on its own, though. I think that the Brussels and Waterloo sections would be understandable and interesting enough to a first-time Morland reader. Many of the characters in those sections appear in this book for the first time, and many of the others have previously appeared only as children, so there’s not a lot of past history there. The sections at Morland Place, however, might only be of interest to those who are already following the story. But those sections are relatively brief and disappear almost entirely in the last half of the book. And the last half of this book is the Morland Dynasty at its best.

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