BOOK REVIEW: Tides of War by Stella Tillyard

Tides of War by Stella TillyardTides of War
By Stella Tillyard
Completed March 29, 2012

Tides of War is the first fictional book by historian Stella Tillyard. Told from a multitude of viewpoints, this book focuses on the battlefront and home front of the Peninsular War during the early 1800’s.

Tillyard mixes a cast of fictional and real-life characters to tell her story.  The novel opens shortly before the British Army sends their forces to Spain to battle Napoleon’s invading armies. Captain James Raven is newly married to Harriet, and this campaign will be a test to their young marriage. Meanwhile, General Wellington sees this as the opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to emerge as one of the best British generals of all time. His wife, Kitty, is no weeping Army wife. In fact, she is glad to be rid of her husband and his philandering ways.

As you would expect from a historian, the story was very much a lesson in history.  Tillyard examines all aspects and effects of the war, from military battles to the financial nuisances of supporting a war chest. The Peninsular War, though taught to me years ago, were unfamiliar reading ground, and I enjoyed learning through Tillyard’s research.

Can historians write good fiction? I think so, but it takes some practice. And practice is what I think Tillyard needs to be a great writer of historical fiction. Tides of War had too many side stories and themes. Here are just a few:

  • The military aspects of the Peninsular War
  • The social effects of war on the home front
  • The strife between democratic government and monarchies
  • Women’s rights during early 19th century England
  • Marriage and adultery
  • Industrial effects on the worker
  • The rise of credit in international finance
  • The invention of gas-powered street lamps
  • The investigation of the medical use of blood transfusions
  • The art of Francisco Goya

Too much! To achieve all these themes, Tillyard invented a cast of dozens and devised t00 many subplots. I hope in her next book she can simplify her storytelling.

Tides of War, overall, was an interesting read if you love historical fiction.  Long listed for this year’s Orange Prize, I tip my hat to Stella Tillyard, the historian, and hope she continues to refine her craft as a fictional writer. (  )


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dee
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 16:03:40

    Thanks for the fascinating and helpful review, Jill. I’d been considering this one but know I have little patience when authors try to put too much into one novel!


  2. Andi (@estellasrevenge)
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 21:38:19

    I have this one on my shelves and have attempted it a couple of times, but I have yet to be able to get into it enough to be swept away. Sounds like there are some things about it that could potentially bug me quite a bit. We’ll see!


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