Ben Kane is better known for writing ancient historical fiction, mainly about the Romans. In this book, he has sortied into the Napoleonic Wars and the 1812 Russian campaign.
The main character is something of an anti-hero. His parents are British and French, living in England. He is a gambling addict, and his father eventually stops paying his debts. This leads him to try his luck at the lucrative, if risky, business of helping French PoWs escape back to France. It doesn't go too well, and he ends up penniless again with a relative in Paris. As you might expect, he again falls into debt after gambling and is blackmailed by the British to spy for them in the Russian campaign. The book's title is misleading as he certainly isn't spying for Napoleon.
The bulk of the book is focused on the Russian campaign, which he participates in as an Imperial messenger. His spying contribution is minimal, but he is at most of the significant events of that ill-fated campaign. The author has used the many memoirs of the terrible retreat to help him tell the story. This really is a case of history being more horrific than fiction.
The description of the retreat is relentless and probably not the best choice for my bedtime reading! However, Kane is an excellent writer, and the story is well told. It is a Sunday Times bestseller for good reason.
|Some of my 15mm French fighting off Russian Cossacks