Sunday 15 September 2019

Book Review: Too Few For Drums, R. F. Delderfield

My wife and I recently went on a terrific short break, staying at three different AirBnB properties, for two nights each, and visiting three different National Trust properties: Petworth House, the Sandham Memorial Chapel, and Waddesdon Manor.

My holiday reading for this break was a deliberate change from the masses of non-fiction military history and modelling stuff I'm mostly reading these days. For a complete change of pace I borrowed Just One More Thing, Peter Falk's autobiography. That was fun. And, closer to home interests wise to this blog, I also took along and read Too Few For Drums, by novelist and Napoleonic history buff, R. F. Delederfield.

As a kid I'd read his Seven Men of Gascony, and loved it. Thanks to a comment on my review of that book, I became aware of Too Few For Drums. The Seven Men story, as the title makes clear, is from the French perspective, whereas Too Few is from the British. Set in Portugal, in 1810, it tells the story of Ensign Graham, a green young officer, and his small 'file', who become cut off behind enemy lines when a bridge is blown before they've got across.

This different cover is rather more suggestive of campaign romance!

I won't go into great detail. The premise is plausible, and Delderfield's deep and wide knowledge of his subject allows him to craft a very beguiling tale. Some of the characterisations are rather thin/clichéd. Only Graham and a female camp follower who joins the file are drawn in any real depth or detail. But it's well enough done to keep the reader involved, and all adds up to a ripping good yarn.

Delderfield unsurprisingly has his chief protagonists come together in more ways than one. But this rather obvious device is greatly tempered by the rumbling ruminations on the class divide between, essentially, officers and rankers. This was something of a leitmotif for Delderfield in much of his non-Napoleonic fiction, I believe. On the one hand it makes for something rather charmingly dated. But on the other it's both unusual in how it's handled, and not quite as anachronistic as it might seem, at first glance.

It's a very easy read. It could probably be read in a day, if you weren't doing anything else. I absolutely loved it. It was perfect holiday reading. And it was nice to read something still connected to one of my major interests, but a lot lighter and easier going than most.  I knock off half a bicorne for the flimsier characterisations of some of the protagonists. But I'd definitely recommend this to lovers of Napoleonic era historical fiction.