Dorothy Yallop pressed her shawl and set the iron down flat on the hearth. Behind her through the window the River Waveney spilled out into the meadows and caught the last of the light from the bleached winter sky. A rising breeze moved through the naked willow branches; snow was on the way from the west. In the darkness the current of war came upriver on the evening tide, pushed unnoticed into every rivulet and stream, and seeped into the frosted ground. – From Tides of War, page 12 –
The year is 1812, the place England. The unconventional and personable Harriet Raven is about to say good-bye to her new husband, James, as he leaves for the Peninsular War as part of the Duke of Wellington’s troops in Spain. Thus begins a new chapter in Harriet’s life – that of the wife left behind while her husband fights battles on foreign soil.
Stella Tillyard’s debut novel is sprawling and filled with characters both historical and fictional. Harriet takes center stage in London and is joined by the Duke of Wellington’s savvy and independent wife, Kitty, along with the ever loyal Dorothy Yallop. While Dorothy waits patiently for the return of her husband, Kitty begins to invest her money through a questionable source, and Harriet becomes enamored with Frederick Winsor who is bringing light to London through his newly conceived Gas Light and Coke Company.
Meanwhile, a bloody war is unfolding in Spain where James Raven, Dr. David McBride, Major George Yallop, Robert Heaton, and the unfaithful Arthur Wellesley (Lord Wellington) wrestle with their own demons and temptations.
The novel moves back and forth from Spain to London and spans the years 1812-1814. Narrated in multiple points of view, it portrays the struggles and strengths of the women who carried on their daily lives in London, as well as the brutal horror of war in Spain – including obscene war crimes, horrible injuries and sexual transgressions. Tillyard’s strength is her ability to bring to life the effects of war, especially for those men who peopled the battlefields.
[…] here in Spain, and in the army, all our pasts drop away from us. Stand in line though we do, the ranks invisibly rearrange themselves so that the ribbons of standing and wealth that tied us together at home fall away. – from Tides of War, page 127 –
Tillyard also illuminates the challenges women faced in the early part of the nineteenth century – their dependence on men, their lack of freedoms, their rather uneventful lives – and demonstrates the unusual freedoms which war brought to them. Not only were most women not allowed to have their own money, but they were also held to a high standard of loyalty…which their husbands were not.
It was not what he had done in Spain. That was to be expected. It was what Harriet had done, her betrayal of her marriage vow. – from Tides of War, page 314 –
Tillyard writes with authority, deftly handling the changes in point of view, and moving the narrative forward. Tides of War has a huge cast of characters and assumes some knowledge of the historical time period. Because of this, I found myself having to reference the character list at the back of the book, and even research some of the history of the time. Despite a slow start, the novel pulled me in and had captivated me by the midpoint.
Readers of historical fiction and those who appreciate a narrative which includes dozens of characters and introduces multiple viewpoints, will enjoy Tides of War.
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FTC Disclosure: This novel was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.