A lull in hostilities for Matthew Hervey

It’s peacetime and it’s snowing in the 12th instalment of Allan Mallinson’s tales of a cavalry officer: time for our hero to pause and review his career

2 May 2015

9:00 AM

2 May 2015

9:00 AM

Words of Command Allan Mallinson

Bantam Press, pp.383, £18.99, ISBN: 9780593073223

Allan Mallinson’s historical series concerning Matthew Hervey, the well-bred, thoughtful soldier, details a world where men are practical and not too clever; where the only sensible vote is Tory; where Moors make ‘uncommonly good cymbalists’. Everything gleams, buffed up to a shining surface: it is a fantasy of empire and glory.

Two thirds of the way through this, the 12th book, our hero finds himself at the site of the Battle of Waterloo. He himself had fought there as a young cornet; now, almost 20 years later, and in command of his own regiment, he reconsiders the scene. It’s a nice meta-fictional moment, as he comments upon the adventures that were expressed in such swashbuckling manner in the first book, A Close Run Thing (which, intentionally or not, is also one of the chapter headings here).

It is necessary for Hervey to look back over his past as, unfortunately for him, it’s peacetime, and snowing, and there are precious few opportunities for sabre-thrusting or leading charges, other than a couple of skirmishes with ruffians. Hervey’s love life is troubled — his first wife dead, he is now unhappily married, which leads to a beautifully rendered and affecting scene in which he visits his wife unannounced. It’s damp, and she can barely bring herself to offer him some coffee, sending him away because she has calls to make. The poignancy is tangible.

Mallinson is a consummate historian, and his deep knowledge of the period is fully on display: the minutiae of geo-political affairs and their import are effortlessly embroidered into his prose. There is a definite, engrossing sense of happenings on the world stage, as trouble brews in France and in Holland, while mad King George totters about Windsor, convinced he led the charge at Waterloo. These troubles are, for the most part, offstage, and Hervey more often learns about events from others than partakes in them.

In part this may result from the need to fit Hervey so neatly into historical events: but it does make this book feel rather like a stopgap, while we let the horses rest and prepare ourselves for the more substantial battles that are sure to follow.

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  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “A lull in hostilities”
    Or as the arms supply industry would have it, “A nasty outbreak of peace.”