On His Majesty’s Service

Written by Allan Mallinson
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

Matthew Hervey is back in the saddle after a three-year absence. The eleventh novel in the series, On His Majesty’s Service sees Lieutenant-Colonel Hervey newly returned to London from the Cape. He is soon summoned to Horse Guards, and as he walks to his headquarters through the streets paved with snow, he looks forward to the command of his beloved regiment, the 6th Light Dragoons. But this is January 1829, and even with his old commander, Wellington, as the prime minister, the benefits of long-term peace for civilians mean the army itself is in the cold. Hervey is told that the Sixth are to be reduced to a single squadron and are no longer suitable for his command. With his long-term ambitions now seemingly set at nought, he undertakes instead a six-month assignment as an observer with the Russian army. Soon Hervey, accompanied by his brother officer, Edward Fairbrother and his faithful groom, Private Johnson, is sailing north to the Eastern Balkans, battleground of the vicious war between Russia and the Turks. While Hervey is supposed to be an impartial spectator in the campaign, soon circumstances and his own nature propel him into a highly dangerous role.

On His Majesty’s Service is perhaps more slow-burning than some of the previous Hervey novels, and certainly this is a book of quiet pleasures, describing a time of relative quiet for military men. As always however, it is well written and well researched; the dialogue in particular is wonderful. While there are also excellently rendered battle scenes during his time in the Balkans, the concentration here is more on Hervey’s relationship and growing friendship with Fairbrother while his relationship with his new wife shows no signs of becoming more intimate.