Book Review: Bitter Glory – a French Cavalry tale
Cavalry stories set in this period don’t appear very often, and I tend not to read them anyway. It would be too easy to inadvertently transpose a scene to one of mine. That’s my excuse, anyway.
But when I happened on this new Kindle book my resolve weakened. I bought it, mainly because (a) its main character is a French chasseur and (b) it’s set in 1800, five years earlier than my start point. Less of a danger, then. Plus it’s VERY cheap, an ideal read for a skinflint like me.
But was it any good?
Bitter Glory by David Swatton
Antoine Chauvelle, a captain in the 21st Chasseurs a Cheval, returns to duty after recovering from a battlefield wound to find an old friend has been killed in a pointless duel with a sadistic hussar well-known for picking fights. But while still unsure how best to take his revenge he is caught up in the French Army of the Reserve’s march through Switzerland – First Consul Bonaparte has determined on crossing the Alps to launch a surprise attack on Austrians who have besieged Andre Massena’s army in the coastal city of Genoa.
Chauvelle is an aristocrat, not well liked by many of his less affluent Republican superiors. It is only when his latent abilities are recognised by the future Marshal Lannes that his career takes a turn for the better. Or maybe not.
Swatton’s character, thankfully, has his faults. Chauvelle can be arrogant at times, he suffers fear and disgust on the battlefield like any normal soldier, and also picks up a couple of minor wounds. The author has written his story more from a campaign point of view than that of the characters, something increasingly common in fiction of this period and, I suppose, useful if the reader is in unfamiliar territory. And though once again it’s an ‘officer-plus-enlisted-man-sidekick’ plot I can’t really see how this device can be avoided in military fiction: in real life one could not operate without the other.
The book trundles along at a pretty good lick, though the second quarter was slowed for me by the author’s determination to include chunks of the backstory of several secondary characters. Then it picks up again and continues in this vein, which meant I read the second half twice as quickly as the first. Cavalry actions are difficult to write since they happen so fast and are over so quickly when compared to infantry fights, but I think Swatton manages to strike the right balance.
Grumbles are minor. A tighter edit would benefit the pace generally and my inner pedant ground its teeth at some of the punctuation, mostly in slower passages where it was more noticeable. I shall leave purists to decide on the cover picture.
The author has left a couple of plot threads untied, so I suspect a sequel is planned, which I’ll definitely read. All in all a decent addition to the genre, though since it’s a cavalry story I am slightly biased 🙂