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Customer Review

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brought down by excessive ambition, 28 Dec. 2010
This review is from: The Fields of Death (Wellington and Napoleon 4) (The Wellington and Napoleon Quartet) (Paperback)
Fields of Death is the fourth and final volume in Simon Scarrow's Revolution series and didn't inspire me to go and read the other three. In fact, I only finished it because I was on holiday and didn't have anything else to read.

The problem is that the undertaking that Scarrow embarked upon - telling the parallel stories of Wellington and Napoleon's lives and campaigns - is such an epic that even in a 700 page volume, the events of the six years leading up to and slightly beyond their ultimate clash at Waterloo are so great that they squash the life out of too many of the episodes and characters.

The result is a bit of a rush through the vast canvas of the latter Napoleonic Wars, dropping in on the major battles and various other incidents, political and personal, but without any great oversight or driving narrative. The loss to the characters is even worse: too often they appear one-dimensional caricatures - Wellington commands imperturbably while Napoleon broods with his hands clasped behind his back. The dialogue is frequently similarly uninspired.

A related problem is that there simply aren't enough meaningful characters. Wellington appears to have a single staff officer for virtually the entire campaign, for example, and he only really exists as someone for Wellington to talk to or explain his strategy and tactics. We never find much out about him or see how six years of war develops his character.

On the other hand, the book's redeeming feature is the quality of the battle writing. These are consistently done well, with a real understanding and feel for the events and as a result, take the reader right into the action. They were the only times I really felt engaged with what was going on and are the reason it gets three stars and not two. Even there though, there are so many battles to get through that they start to blend in to one another by the end.

One other irritant deserves mention. Scarrow refers to Wellington (or Wellesley as he is at the start of the volume) as Arthur. Whether that's an attempt to put him on the same footing as Napoleon - the only other character to be denoted by his forename - or is a none-too-subtle reference to the legendary king, I don't know. Either way, I found it annoying.

All in all, I can't help feeling that it's a misconceived series. The parallel lives simply don't have enough links to sustain the weight of the story they're required to carry at breakneck speed, and the solution - to lighten the load - doesn't properly address it. A series two or three times the length might have helped to pace the story better and to add depth and colour but still wouldn't have resolved the central problem.

Having said all that, it's not a bad book providing the reader doesn't want much from it. As a piece of lightweight (if long) holiday reading, it served its purpose. It's just that it could have been so much better.
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