Heyer for Beginners — The Spanish Bride (1940)

In another abrupt switch in gears, The Spanish Bride sees Heyer return to the Peninsular War battlefields she so recently dazzled with in An Infamous Army, except this time the book is based on a true story and takes place over considerably more of the war than just the events directly leading up to (and including) Waterloo.

It features her favorite child bride character, but even younger the usual, here the tempestuous fourteen-year-old (gross, I know) Juana, who is saved from brutalization at the hands of victorious British soldiers by a more honorable British soldier, Harry Smith, who marries her to save her from all the other British soldiers who might take advantage of her. More than he does, anyway.

Not much is mentioned about all the little Juanas out there who don’t get similarly saved.

It’s not a pretty history, but it is real, and we have to hope that the historical Juana was as genuinely fond of historical Harry as is Heyer’s version. Juana is a firecracker, all temper and soft-heartedness, a woman of extremes. (Well, teenage girl of extremes, as many teenage girls are.) Harry is long-suffering but adores his little wife, and together they brave many dangers and set up comfortable camp homes among their soon-to-be-injured-or-die friends. And all the while they follow Wellington and his army around Europe in an attempt to defeat Napoleon once and for all.

It’s a rollicking good story, for the most part, and feels very authentic. It’s kind of a hybrid between Heyer’s serious historical fiction and her historical romances and the blending is a pretty successful one. I don’t imagine it’s on many people’s list of favorite Heyer novels, but it is a very clever reconstruction of a pretty fascinating story — maybe even romance — and, as always, Heyer’s attention to detail can only be admired.

This is — along with An Infamous Army and Simon the Coldheart — another one for my war buff Dad, too. So that’s nice.

Maura Tan was born in Zanzibar, grew up in Morocco and lives in Singapore, where she is currently studying for her third degree in Contemporary Literature—when not writing reviews for Romantic Intentions Quarterly and eating her bodyweight in durian.