Brigade-Major Harry Smith is a Rifleman in Wellington’s army, fighting Napoleon’s forces in Spain and Portugal. He participates in the Siege of Badajos, a long and drawn-out battle that results in plunder, rape, and violence when the allied British and Portuguese soldiers finally conquer the town. As Harry tries to maintain order and discipline, he is approached by two Spanish women who are seeking protection from the carnage within the city. As soon as he lays eyes on the younger of the women, Juana, he falls instantly in love with her, and she with him. Against the advice of Harry’s comrades, they marry immediately, and Juana accompanies her husband throughout the rest of the Peninsular campaign. As she “follows the drum” and experiences life as a soldier, she demonstrates the courage and fiery temperament that make her a perfect match for Harry. Together, the Smiths witness history as they eventually see Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo.
I am a huge fan of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, but I found that I had to approach this book with entirely different expectations. Although the novel features two young, passionate lovers, it is much more about military history than it is about romance. Harry and Juana Smith were actual historical figures, and Heyer got most of her information from Harry’s journals, as well as from other comtemporary accounts including Wellington’s own dispatches. As a result, there is a lot of great historical detail in the book, but not a lot of plot or character development. While Harry and Juana are very vivid characters, their journey is not the focus of the book. I think the trick to enjoying The Spanish Bride is viewing it as a work of military history with a few romantic touches. If you approach it that way, you’ll find it very readable and entertaining. But if you go into it expecting a tale of romance and suspense with the Napoleonic Wars as a backdrop, you’ll find it extremely dull! So overall, I’d recommend this book if you’re interested in the time period, but you have to adjust your expectations.