Is Lynn Bryant a Marvel fan? I ask because she seems to be basing her considerable literary output on the 19th century equivalent of the Marvel Universe: a Napoleonic Universe, so to speak.
The core stories are her Peninsular War Saga, which follows one regiment through that bloody conflict. There were some spin-off romances, in which various of the characters return to England and balance the bloodiness of their activities in Spain with some more tender moments. There are regular short story offerings that she gives away free. (The latest, for Valentine’s Day, is available here: An Unsuitable Arrangement.)
As a proud resident of the Isle of Man, Lynn was anxious to involve some Manx characters. Given that the place is an actual island, this inevitably meant a concentration on the Navy rather than the Army. Hence a new series, the Manxman, centring on the adventures of Hugh Kelly, captain of the Iris. Kelly has joined the main characters of the Napoleonic Universe, but as is the way with Marvel productions (surely just a matter of time before we see the film), Kelly’s adventures mean that he keeps meeting characters from elsewhere in Lynn’s substantial oeuvre. In Lynn’s latest book, This Bloody Shore, Hugh is assisting Spanish troops besieged in the coastal town of Tarragona. This gives her the opportunity to view the battle from the viewpoint of the troops on the ground as well as the sailors. We meet existing characters from the Peninsular War Saga as well as introducing some new people who will doubtless find their way into the land-based books in time.
There are an awful lot of characters with an awful lot of subplots, but keeping track is easy. I love the Manxman series, but I can’t get on with the Peninsula War saga. (It’s not you, Lynn, it’s me.) That meant that in this book I occasionally came across characters who most of the readers would already know but who were strangers to me. It completely wasn’t an issue. You’ll probably enjoy this book even more if you have read Lynn’s other output (particularly the first two Manxman stories) but it definitely works as a stand-alone.
One of the reasons that I don’t like the Peninsula War saga is that I have taken against the main female character. But in the Manxman series, Kelly’s wife, Roseen, is a joy. There’s a lot of time spent discussing their marriage and his growing family and I can see that this might annoy some readers, but I loved it. We also get to see Kelly’s lieutenant, Durrell, moving forward in his own romantic life. Let’s just say I’m very happy for him.
In yet another subplot, we find Kelly taking up the cause of abolitionism. It’s always a problem in books like this when you start to discuss attitudes to something like slavery, that we now regard as reprehensible but which seemed perfectly normal to many people at the time. It’s easy to become preachy and see everything through the distorting prism of 21st century attitudes. Lynn swerves this problem skilfully. The horrors of the slave trade and the efforts of the abolitionist movement are clearly presented, but we also meet people whose family money comes from slavery and who do not see themselves as monsters. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in future books.
So many characters and so many subplots does mean that the story becomes a little episodic, but Lynn’s writing – always a pleasure to read – keeps you going and eventually all the threads of the story are neatly drawn together to produce a very satisfying book.
It goes without saying that Lynn’s grasp of the historical details of the military campaign is always assured. The book does suffer from the lack of any maps. The geography of Tarragona is important and Lynn does do her best to paint a word picture of the place, but some of the detail slightly gets in the way of the writing and in the end I was reduced to looking the place up on Google. A map really would help. Even without it, though, this book is clearly a five star read.