Bonaparte’s Invaders

Bonaparte’s Invaders
(c) 1998 Richard Howard
320 pages

It is the year 1799, and Napoleon Bonaparte’s triumphant army, having recently earned the Corsican glory and loot in Italy, has now boarded a fleet of ships and sailed east — destination unknown. Bonaparte has his eyes on Egypt, where he believes he can inflict a fatal blow on England’s Indian empire and expand the blessed lights of the Republic and modernity to the backward Middle East. The Egyptians will welcome freedom from the Turks, and flock to the tricolour of the Republic — surely! After a quick stopover in Malta for loot, Napoleon lands an army of 18,000 in the sands of upper Africa. If the expedition had been well-organized at the beginning, though, something fell apart in those many weeks crossing the Med: Napoleon’s army stumbles as ashore for an exercise in prolonged torture, as they must endure weeks of scarce water and food and long marches under an unforgiving sun that blinds as many as it kills directly, all the while being harassed by Bedouins. Bonaparte’s Invaders is a tale of misery, pain, and failure: we follow Alain Lausard and his fellow dragoons as they try to hang on to their lives, any scrape of idealism having burned away under the African sun. It has the merit of dramatizing a period of the Napoleonic wars that few know anything about (being pre-Empire), but it makes for grim reading.

In Bonaparte’s Sons, Richard Howard began a Napoleonic war series that had the interesting twist of being set on the French side, following a unit of dragoons who were criminals granted amnesty provided they served in the army of the Republic. Sons was great fun, featuring a motley crew of men allied against a despicable officer, and full of adventure and fun. Bonaparte’s Invaders sees those same men slowly tortured: as unhappy as they are aboard the boat, things grow far, far worse once on land. Supplies are lost, horses are nowhere to be found: the dragoons march as infantry, doing Napoleon’s bidding with almost no water or food, baking under the sun for weeks at a time. Napoleon also brought along a small contingent of civilians (academics, poets, etc) who eat with the future Emperor and occasionally get into trouble, causing the dragoons to do even more plodding back and forth across the desert wastes. Death — slow, excruciating, torturous death by exposure and malnutrition — is their constant companion, and the few battles offer little relief. To the dragoons and the army, the Egyptian expedition is evidence that the Directory and Napoleon are no better than the Bourbons who preceded them: the common man is just a pawn for them to use up in the pursuit of their own glory.

Bonaparte’s Invaders is certainly interesting if you know nothing about the Egyptian invasion (true for me — I only knew Napoleon deserted his army there), but as a story it’s …draining, making the reader follow the slow dissolution of a once-proud army who make their lot worse by constantly bickering with one another.

Coming up: Darwin, dinosaurs, and forensics.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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4 Responses to Bonaparte’s Invaders

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    Oh, I don’t have this – but I do have two others in the series awaiting to be scheduled. If you’re interested about the Egyptian campaign (like you I know nothing about it except that it happened and ended badly!) you might want to check out: ‘Napoleon in Egypt’ by Paul Strathern. Although I haven’t read it (yet) I’m hoping to shoe-horn it in before year’s end.

    • Possibly! The Napoleonic era is weak for me in general, so I could see taking a look at it as part of a “Europe in the middle east” series.

      • Cyberkitten says:

        If you’re looking for ideas I can probably provide 5-6 on *that* subject… [grin] Mostly from the PoV of the UK naturally……. and maybe the French….

      • I’d best wait until I’ve made more TBR progress before starting a new challenge. 😀 Hospital/hotel stay is helping to a degree…

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