I received this book as part of a competition on Goodreads.com
There was a time when there was a specific code of ethics for every little facet of life. A slight against one person needed to be avenged against another. Strict guidelines on how social classes interacted with each other had to be followed. And dress was all so important. So what happened when people’s desires got in the way of that code? That is the interesting options what Alan Bray explores in novel The Hour of Parade.
The bells rang one o’clock, the end of parade – a time when soldiers are at liberty, disappointed that there’s been no news to break their boredom. He walked up a lane that promised to take him back toward the Marienplatz, occupied by Marianne’s absence.
Look for me tonight, that’s what she said; tonight – a time as distant as the horizon of a graying, wind-blown steppe.
His footfalls echoed and disappeared against windows made from sheets of plate glass. The street was much better drained than those in Brest-Litovsk or Kracow, the gutters swept clean. But here and there, patches of dark ice touched the cobblestones, and he shortened his stride to avoid a fall.
Down the narrow passage, a closed post chaise swayed toward him and to avoid being run over, he pressed back into a watchmaker’s doorway. Within the scattered echo of the hooves, the chains, and the snap of the postilion’s whip, the bells of the cathedral rang the quarter-hour. He stepped out once the way was clear, looking over his shoulder at the receding chaise, curious about its haste.
“Oof!” The wind left his lungs, bringing back all the pain that had been absent during the past month. As he bent over struggling to catch his breath, two figures pressed close to his right flank; to his left, a pair of foreshortened shadows loomed across a building’s wooden façade.
Set in 1806, Bray has written a brilliant historical novel. Russian cavalry officer Alexi Ruzhensky travels to Munich to kill the man who killed his brother in a duel, French Officer Louis Valsin. While an uneasy peace exists after the battle of Austerlitz, Ruzhensky has problems to deciding to seek revenge or let the matter slide has he gets to know Valsin. Matters are complicated as both have strong love interests who also are seeking an end for their own means.
… Marianne unpacked her clothes and comb. Soon dresses and white stockings hung over the end of the bed, and by the hearth, tiny women’s shoes stood in line next to men’s boots. In the midst of these things, a letter arrived from his father, and he placed it on the table, facedown and unopened.
Freed from the jerking of the clock and the movements of the sun that limited his time with her, he felt free to ask his own questions. She’d come, she replied, from a territory between Germany and France. After her father’s death, she’d traveled to Munich on bad advice. Times had been hard; a man had beaten her and taken all her money. With a touching catch in her voice, she said that she didn’t think she’d ever see her mother or her little sisters again,
“Poverty forced me,” she said, “to rely on my native resources.”
At first he didn’t understand her; she’d used a rather formal term to refer to something elemental, polishing it, as if it were a precious mineral or an ore, a fragrant wood grown in her garden. Beauty, youth – like happiness – were native resources, were things of value worth guarding. He studied her; she’d had to spend some of what she owned.
Bray has written an excellent historical novel. Through it, does a reader not only learn about the time period but also of the thought patterns of the time. Bray has done an excellent research job and has written a book that goes beyond what any historical text can do for the era.
The dinner was planned with all the attention given a minor campaign – a campaign within a campaign – not only the mundane issues of what to eat and drink but the finer points of conversation as well. He prepared several topics, developing his positions with care and making allowances for spontaneity.
With regret, he chose a black evening jacket with silk stockings and civilian shoes rather than his uniform, a costume that certainly might lead his guests to unpleasant associations.
Bray also has an excellent grasp of language. His words give a reader a perfect image of what is going on in their mind’s eye.
The gutters ran with gurgling torrents. Like a wash of varnish, a coat of moisture remained on the cobbles. Faint light from lanterns made the street glisten and shimmer, made pockets of mist appear, full of shapes. In her chest, the night air was a rheum of fog. She took his arm, and they set off in small strides to avoid slipping. Against the cobblestones, their footsteps jolted with rhythmic pressure, driving the wine and mist from her mind.
The Hour of Parade by Alan Bray is an interesting and enlightening read. It is at times gripping and dramatic as well. A perfect book for any history buff.