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'Into the Valley of Death' by AL Berridge

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Manda Scott
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Location: Shropshire, UK
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'Into the Valley of Death' by AL Berridge

Postby Manda Scott » Mon June 4th, 2012, 3:06 pm

I've said this before, but it bears saying again: one of the great joys of the HWA is the introduction to writers whose work I might well have over looked.
AL Berridge is one of those: her books, 'Honour and the Sword' and 'In the Name of the King' have both gained 'keeper' status on my shelves, and there are very, very few that do that.

Her latest offering, 'Into the Valley of Death' shifts us from chivalrous France to the Crimea and one of Britain's bloodiest wars - which has never been my idea of a favourite evening's read: I'm not keen on the British Army at the point when everyone dressed in red so they'd make a good target on the battlefield and the officers were clearly idiots: it's just too imperially depressing.

But I am so, immensely glad that I trusted in AL Berridge's outstanding writing style and picked this one up. Her grasp of the history is unparalleled: I have no idea if anyone else has stitched together the data and drawn the same conclusion as she has done, but it seemed not only plausible, but obvious: I won't drop a spoiler, but there's a twist in this tale that makes sense of the events in a way that the sheer incompetence of the officers (Lord Lucan is called Lord Look-On by his troops for obvious reasons) simply doesn't explain. In Berridge's hand, the catastrophic and suicidal 'Charge of the Light Brigade' is transformed from gross negligence on the part of the officer class into an act of necessary heroism by men who have been fatally deluded.

So, the history is accurate, I'm sure and testament to an eye watering amount of research, and the battle scenes are electric, with an immediacy that many strive for and most fail to achieve. If you like your books full of blood and the noise of battle, you'll love this.
But if, like me, you want real people, of depth and colour and character; men and women who step off the page into your subconscious and aren't simply Holywood cut-outs in period drag, then this is still the book for you. If Harry Ryder and the small group of men he gathers around him, can keep me sitting up until 2am to finish this, then it's got to be good.

Harry is a bad-boy with a reason to be bad and his progress down and up the ranks, his humanity, his love of the men and the horses (you can't be in the cavalry and not love your horse, even when it's been shot out from under you and you're pinned beneath it on the field) his loathing of the officer class and his ability to talk himself out of trouble - or not - is the bright, shining jewel that runs through this book. Chevalier de Roland was a great creation. Harry Ryder is magnificent and you miss him at your loss.

Bottom line: If you like Sharpe, you'll love these. I'm not a great Sharpe fan, but I loved this anyway. One of the outstanding books of 2012, and one that should break through the genre barriers.
Last edited by Manda Scott on Fri July 27th, 2012, 4:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Boudica: Dreaming. INTO THE FIRE out in June 2015: Forget what you thought you knew, this changes everything.

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erechwydd
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Location: Somerset
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Postby erechwydd » Fri July 27th, 2012, 11:36 am

I'd just like to second this wholeheartedly; this review sums up everything I loved about the novel - definitely one of my top reads from 2012. If anyone's interested in reading a second review, I've posted one here.


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