Hi, Jo here composing this on Remembrance Day in the UK, which we mark by wearing poppies. That's not the sort of poppy that bloomed around the trenches in WWI, but it's a picture of my own. There's a famous poem that begins,
"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row…"
If you don't know it, you can read the rest here. In the end it seems to be pro-war, so I have mixed feelings about it. You?
Let's talk about soldiers in historical fiction. I felt sure that I'd done this subject before, but I've done a skim through the archives and haven't found it, so here goes. Most of us never experience war, either as soldiers or civilians caught up in war, and I'm sure most people are as grateful as I am about that. And yet, war and warriors have strong appeal in fiction going back to Beowulf and beyond.
I honestly don't know how I feel about this, for to me war seems all wrong. There has to be a better way. That's probably why I haven't used war as a setting for any of my Georgian or Regency stories, and mostly avoided it in my medievals. I've had some soldier heroes, but not many, and not on active duty. At the same time I have enjoyed some active soldier heroes. I regard Bernard Cornwell (Sharpe etc) as a guilty pleasure because his military heroes don't suffer doubts about right or wrong, and in some cases revel in battle. I suspect he captures warriors of the past more accurately than most modern writers and I enjoy his books. Comment?
The Regency was a time of war and the army or navy was a likely career for upper class younger sons, so it has to be present, even if only in a shadowy way, in the background of Regency fiction. The 18th century was more on-again-off-again, but there was action somewhere all the time.
If a Georgian or Regency romance is going to include battle action it's going to have to be set outside of Britain, except for some unfortunate events like the 1715 and 1745 risings. Of course the army was used to put down riots all the time, sometimes killing, which is another reason I'm chary about having military heroes. Do you have any favorite books set amid war, such as on the Iberian Peninsula? I do like Heyer's Spanish Bride, but it's mostly away from there.
Or do you like any military heroes to be out of the game, or at least out of action for a while? Or do you prefer that there be little attention paid to any ongoing war at all in your romances? And why?
Who's your favorite military hero, active or not?
If you've read a historical romance with a plausibly active military heroine, let's hear about her!
The closest I came to really dealing with war was in the three stories that were gathered together as Three Heroes — infantry, cavalry, and administration. All after the events, of course, but dealing with Waterloo, which most present found unpleasant, to put it mildly. (BTW, if you're reading through the Rogues as e-books and hit the ridiculously high price form The Dragon's Bride, Three Heroes is a much better deal.)
As I said, we can't ignore war in Regencies. In my Company of Rogues I killed off a couple of potential heroes from the beginning, simply because of the realities of war. I'd set up a group of 12 schoolboys and they were going to turn 16 in about 1806.Britain was at war with France and would remain so for the next 9 years. Some of these sprigs of the nobility were going to take up careers in the military, and therefore it would be crassly unrealistic for none of them to have died by 1814, when the books begin. Or that's how I saw it.
"The Company of Rogues is now nine," Nicholas said soberly. He raised his
glass. "To all the fallen: may they be young forever in heaven. To all the
wounded: may they have strength and heal. To all the bereaved: may they feel
joy again. And please God," he added quietly, "may there one day be
an end to war."
Amen. I eventually chickened out about Dare. (Sorry if that's a spoiler, but the book was written a while ago, and it's a happy spoiler.) It had been all too easy to kill off young men who were only names, but beyond me to kill off one who'd come alive on the page. Can you think of any notable losses in historical romances, where a character you'd come to care for was killed in a war?
I've thrown lots of questions at you, but I'd love to read any of your thoughts on this, and I'll give a copy of the book in which Dare returns — The Devil's Heiress — to one commenter on this blog.