This historical story is set in Brussels just
before the time of the Battle of Waterloo, June 1815 Allied forces, consisting of British, Dutch, Belgian and German soldiers,
thwarted the attempts of European domination by the French general and emperor,
Napoleon Bonaparte. This battle marked
the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), Waterloo was the definitive
battle for Wellington and and Napoleon and the war which took the
lives of 5 million people. See: https://booksgosocial.com/2019/10/29/the-regency-decade-1815-part-one-waterloo/
This site tells us a little about what was
happening in Brussels from 1812 after until just before the Battle and the
novel continues with this society as its backdrop. There was a social whirl
that ex-pat Britons and their Continental compatriots enjoyed, including of
course, the Officers from the Allied Forces – who were very dashing and usually
of a high social rank as such rank was purchased for the young family scions.
against this background we have the story of a small family struggling
with poverty but well-bred and distantly related to those with more money and
titles. It was common amongst the better
off in English society to take in poorer relatives and help them either to
launch themselves into Society, or to find suitable employment. Here we have a
child with rheumatic fever, which of course is serious even today and then could
easily kill or leave sufferers with heart conditions. Whilst this disease is now rare, in the late
eighteenth century it was more common and also becoming recognised as a result
of streptococcal infections that include
pharyngitis, impetigo, and scarlet fever but rarely recognised
as the continuum of these illnesses. It becomes Rheumatic Fever when it begins
to affect the organs. Scarlet fever seems to occur in waves and thus
rheumatic fever follows.
Part of the storyline involved the game of
Piquet and gambling. Piquet is a card game rarely played these days, it is a 2
player game with 32 cards. Similar to whist it has card combinations and tricks
but where the object is to reach 100 points within 6 deals. If you fail to
reach 100 then you are penalised. I guess you gamble on winning the 100 points.
There is a set of complicated instructions about being called the Elder or the
Younger that you can obtain if you really want to play by a gentleman called David Parlett.
Interestingly the rules now played were not established until much later in the
19th century than this book is set even though the game started in the 16th
century. You can also buy sets of Piquet cards.
I liked this story. It was complex and long enough
to develop the characters and their situation and imbed it into a historical
context. The style was easy to read and flowed well.