Anyone interested in the Napoleonic Era is blessed with a large and continually expanding list of books and journals, fiction and non-fiction. Popular fiction as a whole tends to concentrate on Waterloo, the Russian Campaign, and the savage war in the Peninsula. Few English language novels exist on the Franco-Austrian rivalry, a contest every bit as long and tenacious as that between Britain and Napoleonic France.
Patrick Rimbaud’s award-winning novel will hopefully correct this with his work on the two day Battle of Aspern-Essling. Set outside French-occupied Vienna in 1809, Rimbaud narrates the drama surrounding the first European defeat for Napoleon and his Grande Armee. Largely forgotten by all save the most dedicated observers of the period, Aspern-Essling and Wagram were the first steps along a road that would culminate in French disaster at Waterloo. Rimbaud’s characters include a chilling and ahuman Napoleon, high ranking battlefield commanders like the long-suffering Berthier, the flamboyant Massena, and the determined Lannes, as well as lesser characters who serve as models for the thousands of nameless soldiers and junior officers. The battle is outlined in some detail and the suffering of the wounded and hungry combatants is both realistic and moving.
While the tactical analysis may confuse some readers, the pace of the novel provides the relief from battlefield minutiae. The publisher believes this to be a novel “Balzac always wanted to write”. Rather, The Battle is a novel we should be grateful Rimbaud has written. Highly recommended.