Napoleon’s Blackguards

Written by Stephen McGarry
Review by Thomas j. Howley

In 1808, Napoleon invades Spain under a ruse, and the British Army prepares to meet him there.  The French Army is the most formidable land force on the planet. It includes foreign volunteer, as well as sometimes impressed, units. One of the best, though sometimes the unruliest, is the Irish Legion.  Captain James Ryan is an Irish patriot on the run from the British. Ryan leads a small group to retrieve his unit’s Eagle battle standard, which has been stolen by Spanish guerrillas during a daring raid. Along the way, he observes more in a series of seemingly endless war atrocities.

Outnumbered by the French, the British conduct a fighting withdrawal to the sea. Among their number is an albino English officer on whom Ryan has sworn revenge. All of the main combatant forces—French, Spanish and British—are portrayed as hideously cruel. Along with the expected vivid battlefield violence and carnage, there are also repeated accounts of graphic torture, rape, and the deliberate killing of women, children and even animals. Ryan considers the Spanish guerrillas freedom fighters just like the Irish patriots at home but yearns still to take on the British to find his nemesis.

American and British spellings are confusingly mingled: “honor,” but sometimes “honour.” There are a considerable number of typos and grammatical issues, which would have been improved considerably by better editing. Vultures “gaped salaciously” at dead bodies; the “convoy were” and “the battalion were.”  Lawbreakers were “branded for life on the check,” “wolf” and “wolfe,” etc.  Having at least one map would have been beneficial. If the reader can overcome the poor editing and gruesomely presented gore, there is an exceptionally well researched and interesting war and revenge story to be discovered here.