Send Me Safely Back Again

Written by Adrian Goldsworthy
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

This is the third novel in Adrian Goldsworthy’s Napoleonic series focusing on the men of the British 106th Foot. Send Me Safely Back Again begins in March 1809 with the main characters, Hanley, Williams and Pringle, forced to serve as supply soldiers after the defeat at Corunna. Sent into Spain to recover British Army stores, they are first caught up in the Battle of Medellin, a disaster for their Spanish allies, and then drawn into the even more dangerous arenas of political intrigue and espionage. With enemy spies in both the British and Spanish lines, the men of the 106th Foot struggle to outwit the French and their equally dangerous opponents within their own allied armies.

This series has been described as “Sharpe meets Jane Austen,” and this book even features a rascally Mr Wickham, but the comparison is superficial. The book has neither the pace of Cornwell nor the characterisation of Austen. While this is set in the same theatre of war as Sharpe, the narrative proceeds at a languid pace, an asset when dealing with the complicated political elements of the story but a hindrance when it comes to the important battle scenes. The multiplicity of characters involved can also get in the way of the story-telling, slowing down the pace precisely when it needs to be increased. Not having read the previous books in the series was definitely a disadvantage in this regard.

The research in the novel is clear and very strong, and here Send Me Safely Back Again is at its best. While a lot of explication is funnelled through the dialogue, it is done realistically and deftly. The epistolary elements of the narrative are also very well written, adding hinterland in particular to the Williams character.

This is an interesting read but not an involving one.