Into the Valley of Death, by A.L. Berridge
After her two very enjoyable Thirty Years War adventures following the antics of the Chevalier de Roland, A.L. Berridge has turned her attention to one of the most wretched wars of the 19th century: the Crimean. After victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, Britain enjoyed a period of relative peace in Europe during which their generals rather went off the boil; thus the British army that arrived in the Crimean Peninsula in September 1854 was badly led by Wellington’s former military secretary, Lord Raglan, and ill-prepared for the fighting that followed (which, in the best tradition of the British Army, did not necessarily stop them winning).
Berridge has adopted a bevy of characters from across the rank and file of the British army, and replicated the multi-perspective narrative deployed to such good effect in her previous books: there are two cavalrymen, one Guardsman and one Highlander. This approach permits her to work her characters in to all the places in which the action was hottest during the crossing of the Alma and the Battles of Balaklava and Inkerman, which neatly gives an all-round sense of the action, while also providing a fascinating cross-section of the British army’s institutional life.Our four heroes, brought together by fate and united by a shared love of a new card game taught to them by friendly officer, come to realise through their different experiences as the army advances that there is a traitor at work in their midst – someone who is determined to undermine the allied cause and help their Russian foes. Their mission is to identify and unmask the traitor while trying to survive the deadly action – which includes one of the bloodiest, bravest and frankly stupidest incidents in the history of British arms, the Charge of the Light Brigade. Berridge skilfully weaves her traitor’s actions and their consequences in to the historical record available, and it all feels very plausible.
Into the Valley of Death is a hugely pleasurable slice of military history, laced liberally with skullduggery and derring-do: characters are captured, take part in desperate, confused actions in the Crimean fog and plot and scheme to unmask the traitor. While even a moderately alert reader will have realised who the traitor is long before our heroic protagonists, that does not detract from a book that delivers everything one expects from this genre. Lovers of Richard Sharpe will find much here to enjoy, as the military action has not changed significantly from the Napoleonic period, while the focus on a less well-fictionalised war makes a refreshing contrast.
The fact that this book is billed as ‘Harry Ryder 1′ on Amazon makes clear that Ryder, one of the cavalrymen central to this adventure, an ex-officer from the British Indian Army, will ride again. I really can’t wait!