Review: Bugles at Dawn

So, lots of things have happened since I last blogged.  I undertook an internship at Legend Press, have now got another lined up for the summer with Endeavour Press and more applications pending left, right and centre. Unfortunately writing’s taken a back seat of late, but more importantly I have read some terrific books. One such is Bugles at Dawn by Charles Whiting, and I thought I’d write a bit about it.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, and, rather pleasingly, the cover used is one of my favourite paintings: Lady Butler’s ‘Scotland Forever!’. But this is not simply another novel set against the backdrop of the conflict. While Whiting’s narrative does start at the close of the battle, events swiftly conspire, with a little assistance from Wellington, to send our hero, John Bold, to India, and this is where the meat of the yarn unfolds.

Bold goes from being a subaltern in the 52nd Regiment of Foot to the armies of the East India Company, at the head of his own irregular cavalry troop (Bold’s Horse) in a dangerous struggle against a beautiful and deadly Princess who wants to see the British out of her country. One should bear in mind that in the age of purchasing commissions, it was not unheard of for officers to have served in infantry and cavalry regiments.  This is a clever touch, because it allows us to see how the cavalry were trained as Bold adapts, and we learn about India under Company rule as he does, through his social and military escapades.

The battles are well crafted affairs, and the small details inserted really give you a taste of the age.  Whiting has a flair for the military adventure story, and his descriptions bring the words to life in your mind. You get a sense of the dusty plains, the dense jungle, the vibrant sights and the crash and speed of the onslaught.

There were moments I thought of Flashman, and others of Sharpe: John Bold sits well beside them.

While it is a tightly plotted romp, and Whiting keeps the adrenalin up for the most part, the ending feels abrupt and lacking. Threads are left hanging, and for those with an interest in the history of India will wonder whether Bold is destined for the Gurkha War or Burma. Edit: I should say that a little research shows that Whiting did indeed write a sequel, entitled Sabres in the Sun, set in Burma. The educated guess in this case is bang on! Now, where to find a copy…?

You can read Bugles at Dawn on Kindle, and given there’s the mobile app it’s pretty difficult to use the ‘I don’t have a Kindle’ excuse. This is definitely one for the fans of Bernard Cornwell and George Macdonald Fraser, and brightened up a dreary train journey.





About Peter Smith

A voracious reader, Peter Smith is an editorial assistant with an unhealthy passion for tea, ballroom dancing, cake decorating (and eating), and photography. Fortunately not all at the same time.
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