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Tides of War by Stella Tillyard
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Tides of War (2011)

by Stella Tillyard

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Could never quite find my place within this book. I didn't like the way it was written, didn't care for the storyline possibly because my head wasn't in it. I know that others enjoyed it but I would be hard put to even tell you what it was about. Obviously I was unable to complete this one. 1/2 stars from me and not recommended. ( )
  rainpebble | Jan 15, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is the second disappointing novel written by a historian that I've read in the past (the first being by Alison Weir). While Weir's novel suffered from trying too hard to produce what she apparently thinks readers of historical fiction enjoy: melodrama, sappy romance, a hyperbolic style, impossible plot twists, and gratuitous sex scenes that were so bad they made me either laugh or go "Ick!" If I had to choose between them, I'd choose Tillyard, desite this novel's flaws.

It took me a long, long time to finish this one; it just never really captured my interest, and I found myself putting it aside for long periods to get on with more enjoyable books. Tillyard's setting, the Peninsular War, was something about which I knew little, and it was interesting, for the most part. But as others have said, Tillyard could never quite put the historian aside. The result was that every fact added to an already huge cast of characters and yet another subplot. If it had kept my interest, I might have been fine with that; but instead, I felt a bit lost whenever I returned to the book. In addition, as others have mentioned, the tone was a bit offputting. It wasn't that she tried to imitate the style of the period or of the aristocracy, but there was an academic undertone that she apparently could not shake.

I did like her portrait of high society and the character of Lady Wellington, and I learned something about an unfamiliar period; but I have to say that I was much relieved to come to the end of Tides of War. Would I give Tillyard a second chance at fiction? Yes. Hopefully she will have learned something about novel writing from her first effort and will put her historical knowledge to better, more restrained use in her second. ( )
  Cariola | Apr 5, 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. ( )
3 vote mrstreme | Mar 30, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Stella Tillyard has compiled a large cast for her book Tides of War. Yes, at times it is difficult to sort out and keep the intricacies of their inter-relationships straight, but worth the trouble. The role of women and their subsequent choices when their husbands go off to war offer the reader insight into the various opportunities and choices available to women in the early 19th century. Men were often gone for years, with husband and wife virtual strangers upon their return. The writer examines the various occupations of men who accompany soldiers-not always fighters.

The writer's strength of craft is her keen sense of setting as she conveys the landscape of war and home life in this novel with attention to a reader's multi-sensory experience captured with luscious prose.

A novel that follows the ravages of war and the edges of peace that are alive outside the war-zone...often quiet and still. Valuable addition to historical fiction novels of this period.


© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2012]. ( )
  WisteriaLeigh | Feb 28, 2012 |
An amazing historical novel mostly set in England and Spain from 1812-1815 during the Pennisular War...and leading up to Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. Tillyard gives her readers a scintillating portrait of Regency life...not only in London, but on the battlefields of Spain. Her adept mixing of historical figures (Nathan Rothschild, Lord and Lady Wellington, de Goya) and fictional characters breathes life into this fascinating story. Tillyard has written previous non-fiction books about the Lennoxes, George III and Edward Fitzgerald. This is her first novel. I hope she writes many more. ( )
  ken1952 | Jan 4, 2012 |
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Book description
Tides of War opens in England with the recently married, charmingly unconventional Harriet preparing to say goodbye to her husband, James, as he leaves to join the Duke of Wellington's troops in Spain.
Harriet and James's interwoven stories of love and betrayal propel this sweeping and dramatic novel as it moves between Regency London on the cusp of modernity—a city in love with science, the machine, money—and the shocking violence of war in Spain. With dazzling skill Stella Tillyard explores not only the effects of war on the men at the front but also the freedoms it offers the women left behind. As Harriet befriends the older and protective Kitty, Lady Wellington, her life begins to change in unexpected ways. Meanwhile, James is seduced by the violence of battle, and then by love in Seville.
As the novel moves between war and peace, Spain and London, its large cast of characters includes the serial adulterer and war hero the Duke of Wellington, and the émigrés Nathan Rothschild and Frederic Winsor who will usher in the future, creating a world brightly lit by gaslight where credit and financial speculation rule. Whether describing the daily lives and desires of strong female characters or the horror of battle, Tides of War is set to be the fiction debut of the year.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805094571, Hardcover)

A Library Journal Top Ten Best Books of 2011

An epic novel about love and war, set in Regency England and Spain during the Peninsular War (1812-15), by the acclaimed historian and bestselling author of Aristocrats

Tides of War opens in England with the recently married, charmingly unconventional Harriet preparing to say goodbye to her husband, James, as he leaves to join the Duke of Wellington's troops in Spain.

Harriet and James's interwoven stories of love and betrayal propel this sweeping and dramatic novel as it moves between Regency London on the cusp of modernity—a city in love with science, the machine, money—and the shocking violence of war in Spain. With dazzling skill Stella Tillyard explores not only the effects of war on the men at the front but also the freedoms it offers the women left behind. As Harriet befriends the older and protective Kitty, Lady Wellington, her life begins to change in unexpected ways. Meanwhile, James is seduced by the violence of battle, and then by love in Seville.

As the novel moves between war and peace, Spain and London, its large cast of characters includes the serial adulterer and war hero the Duke of Wellington, and the émigrés Nathan Rothschild and Frederic Winsor who will usher in the future, creating a world brightly lit by gaslight where credit and financial speculation rule. Whether describing the daily lives and desires of strong female characters or the horror of battle, Tides of War is set to be the fiction debut of the year.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:51:28 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Tides of War opens in England with the recently married, charmingly unconventional Harriet preparing to say goodbye to her husband, James, as he leaves to join the Duke of Wellington's troops in Spain. Harriet and James's interwoven stories of love and betrayal propel this sweeping and dramatic novel as it moves between Regency London on the cusp of modernity -- a city in love with science, the machine, money -- and the shocking violence of war in Spain. With dazzling skill Stella Tillyard explores not only the effects of war on the men at the front but also the freedoms it offers the women left behind. As Harriet befriends the older and protective Kitty, Lady Wellington, her life begins to change in unexpected ways. Meanwhile, James is seduced by the violence of battle, and then by love in Seville. As the novel moves between war and peace, Spain and London, its large cast of characters includes the serial adulterer and war hero the Duke of Wellington, and the emigres Nathan Rothschild and Frederic Winsor who will usher in the future, creating a world brightly lit by gaslight where credit and financial speculation rule. Whether describing the daily lives and desires of strong female characters or the horror of battle, Tides of War is set to be the fiction debut of the year."--Publisher's description… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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