by Jennifer Lindsay
Edition reviewed: Robert Hale, ISBN:0-7090-7825-0.
The Lady Soldier is a historical romance set in 1812, first in Spain against the background of the Napoleonic war, then moving to aristocratic society in London. All the major characters are fictional.
I should say right up front that I don't generally read romances, historical or otherwise. I picked this one up because I read about it on one of Kate Allan's blogs and the associated website, and because Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series and CS Forester's The Gun (the film, I confess, not the book) got me interested in the Peninsular War.
So how did I get on with this unfamiliar reading territory? Pretty well. The hero, Captain Tony Dorrell, is a classic romantic-novel hero with broad shoulders, tight breeches and curling dark hair the heroine can't take her eyes off (think Colin Firth in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice; I did). The heroine, Jem Riseley, aka Jemima Cullen, is an aristocratic lady who has disguised herself as a man, joined the army to escape her abusive stepfather and is making a name for herself in Spain as a military hero. A promotion brings her into the same regiment as Tony Dorrell, the man she was in love with three years ago in England. The two of them get cut off in French-held territory in Spain, have to battle deserters and French agents to get back to safety, and Jem struggles against the odds to keep her secret. Then the scene switches to Regency London, where Jem's struggle is now to be accepted into high society and to build a lasting relationship with Tony. I won't give away any more of the plot, except to say that it's a romance so you already know that all ends in perfect felicity.
I found Jem the more interesting of the two lead roles. She comes over as courageous, determined, independent-minded and inclined to try to sort out her own problems rather than ask for help, even though she doesn't always succeed. I have the impression that she fitted better into army life than she does into Regency high society, and the Author's Note comments that women who are known to have served as soldiers (yes, there are recorded examples) often had great difficulty adjusting to a traditional female role afterward. Tony didn't work so well for me, in part at least because he has the classic alpha-male traits of arrogance, reluctance to listen and absolute conviction that he always knows best (even when he doesn't), and alpha males tend to annoy me. But readers who love alpha-male heroes will no doubt disagree with me here.
I have a few quibbles. Reading Sharpe and CS Forester's Rifleman Dodd and Brown on Resolution has hammered into me that a rifle and a musket are different weapons with different capabilities. The rifle was more accurate but the musket was faster to load. It's clear the authors know this, because they mention it in the text. So it jars to see the terms used apparently interchangeably, "it was an Indian Pattern Brown Bess musket.....she balanced the Indian Pattern rifle" and later, "the recoil from the musket would be savage....The rifle kept hitting her bruises." I'm also a little uneasy that no other man in a year of soldiering apparently noticed Jem's shapely behind in her tight breeches, or that a small woman would be able to carry a scaling ladder on her own. And I would have liked a lot more about the French villain's nefarious activities with the deserters in Spain and his spy plot in London. But that's a personal taste; I'm well aware that a romance has to focus on the central relationship and complaining that it doesn't have subplots is like complaining about the body count in a crime novel.
Jennifer Lindsay is a pen name for two collaborating authors, Kate Allan and Michelle Styles, and I wondered if this would be apparent in the book. It isn't; the prose flows seamlessly and I can't see the joins.
A good read for fans of romance who like an adventurous background.