Book review: Whose Business is to Die by Adrian Goldsworthy

Whose Business is to Die byAdrian Goldsworthy
Whose Business is to Die byAdrian Goldsworthy
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As British troops muster for the bitter and bloody Battle of Albuera in Spain in 1811, a young fresh-faced officer is determined to cover himself in glory.

But even though the army of allies outnumbers Napoleon’s French troops, the men are tired and under-resourced and Lieutenant Hamish Williams of the 106th Foot regiment will do well just to stay alive.

The sixth volume in acclaimed historian Adrian Goldsworthy’s outstanding Peninsular War series comes just a year after the 200th anniversary of Wellington’s greatest victory at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18.

But the action in the new book of this gripping and viscerally authentic series, which seamlessly blends real and fictional characters, takes place four years earlier… in the spring of 1811 when the military situation in the Iberian Peninsula was uncertain for Britain and her Spanish and Portuguese allies.

Welshman Hamish Williams has been campaigning with Viscount Wellington’s army for three years now and has had numerous brushes with death but the men are in good spirits despite being tired. Their army appears to be finally advancing and the French going backwards.

However, Wellington is engaged in a battle in the north, and so any operations around the Spanish frontier fortress town of Badajoz will have to succeed with barely enough resources and under the command of inexperienced and bickering generals.

And there is every chance that Napoleon’s forces are gathering themselves for a counter-attack. To make sure that doesn’t happen, the British troops and their allies will have to go on the attack themselves and without the necessary resources, they will have to be bold… and lucky.

Williams relishes the call to action. Spurred on by the prospect of at last redeeming himself in the eyes of the woman he loves, Jane MacAndrews, feisty daughter of Major Alastair MacAndrews, Williams is more than keen to win a battlefield promotion.

What he doesn’t yet realise is that he is marching into the bloodiest battle of the war… Albuera, a contest that will be the ultimate test of courage, skill and good fortune. As entire regiments are wiped out in the desperate pursuit of victory, the fate of Williams and his comrades hangs in the balance.

Goldsworthy, who writes with both his knowledge as a military historian and his novelist’s eye for drama and intrigue, brings us warfare in all its brutal reality… cavalry charges, raids, ambushes, the grim work of digging trenches under fire and the blood, bullets and shells.

From the charge at Campo Major and the siege at Badajoz to the human cost of the Battle of Albuera, this is real history and thrilling adventure based on the empiricism of research but told with the vigour and imagination of a born storyteller.

(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, paperback, £9.99)