Tides of War is a historical novel set in the 1800s (which I think of as the Jane Austen time period) and focuses on the Peninsular war against Napoleon. Newlywed Harriet Raven is left behind by her husband Captain James Raven as he joins Lord Wellington's troops and we see the action from both perspectives - James in the thick of it and Harriet left behind, but with more freedom. There are many characters and plot arcs in Tides of War, but the main theme is the changing effect war has on all whose lives are touched by it, and how things can never really go back to how they were. I chose to read it as I'm aiming to read as many books as possible from the 2012 Orange Prize Longlist.
Tides of War was well written and mainly enjoyable. It's easy to see that Tillyard is a historian as well as a fiction writer as there was a wealth of historical detail. I appreciated this in the sections about London and the new 'illumination science' but not so much in the sections about the war. Military history isn't really my thing and it was hard for me to keep straight the actions of the French, British and Spanish partisans when I had no background knowledge of the war. When I read historical fiction, I tend not to read war fiction.
Consequently, the parts I really enjoyed were the parts about Harriet. Left behind in London, she soon finds that she has more freedom with her husband away than with him at home and her life begins to expand. She attends lectures, makes new friends and falls in love with a foreign scientist. This was true of all the women too - they got a taste of independent living that meant that their relationships with their husbands when they returned were permanently changed.
Most of the criticisms of this book I have seen focus on the fact that there is a large cast of characters. This is true - it's an ensemble cast like a HBO TV show, but this didn't bother me at all. Tillyard wrote all of the characters distinctively so I had no trouble keeping tabs on them all. The large cast also meant she could introduce some interesting characters that wouldn't have any focus if the book was all about Harriet and James. My favourite 'minor' character was James' servant Thomas, who gets swept up in the heat of war to commit an unspeakable act that effects him deeply for the rest of the novel.
Despite the high quality writing and interesting plot, the book fell a bit flat for me. I liked it whilst I was reading it but never really felt a strong urge to pick it up again. Perhaps it was the time period, perhaps it was the military history, but for whatever reason I didn't love this book. Other historical fiction fans might.
Source: Library (reserved)
First Published: 2011
Score: 3.5 out of 5
I love the cover! It sounds like something I might try. It's funny how books just sometimes don't click even though all the elements seem to be there. Sometimes the opposite is true - when we love a book even though there are obvious shortfalls. It's that mysterious author/reader connection at work.ReplyDelete
The cover is great, isn't it? I guess we will never truly know how the author/reader connection works for some and not for others.Delete
Very informative review. I really like the description, but Im not sure about this one. Thanks!ReplyDelete
Annette, it was missing something for me but I've seen other reviewers give it 5/5. The parts about women becoming more independent whilst the men were away were very interesting.Delete
I find I have that problem when I try to read historical fiction about military history. Not all the time though.ReplyDelete
I think that was the biggest part of the problem - military history just isn't my thing.Delete
Military historical fiction in this period is one of my favorite types of books, so I was hoping for some in this. But I found it was really, really lacking in the actual military history. Compared to a Sharpe or Hornblower novel, there are very few details about the planning and execution of campaigns. I thought it was interesting comparing the lives of the men at war, and the women at home.ReplyDelete
Maybe the problem was that it was military history, but not properly - it had many other focuses as well. It's interesting that it didn't really work for me, who isn't interested in military history at all, but it also didn't work for you, who is.Delete
I almost think its because touched on both the homefront and the war front, but didn't really get into either in too much detailDelete
I love historical fiction, especially about this time period. I've never heard of either the title or the author but from your review and the comments I gather it's not really worth my time. Have you ever tried Bernard Cornwell?ReplyDelete
I would stick with the Cornwell, if you've not gotten through all of the Sharpe series. Other than getting to know more about Wellington the man, not much going for it as far as military history.Delete
It's nice to hear about a different historical fiction author (I'm looking at you, Philippa Gregory!). It seems like an interesting time period too, not one that is written about too much.ReplyDelete
Haha yes, I like Gregory, but it's nice to have a change every now and again!Delete
Any mention of Portugal or does the book focus mainly on Spain? I'm Portuguese and there aren't a lot of books about that time, so this one might be an option.ReplyDelete
Alex, there is a little bit about Portugal, but I think anyone reading it looking for information about it would be very disappointed. The main focus is definitely Spain.Delete
I am still just starting to get into historical fiction, I have really enjoyed some of what I've read so far. Thanks for the review of this one. I love the sound of the parts about Harriet. Not so sure if I would enjoy the military stuff either.ReplyDelete
I love historical fiction, but I am fussy with it. I'm not into military stuff as a rule, so I don't think I'll ever read any of the Sharpe books!Delete
For some reason this title appealed to me less than the rest of the longlist. I need to read it soon, but other titles are calling out to me more.ReplyDelete