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May 1812

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1812. Europe has been at war for twenty years. Britain stands alone against the greatest threat to peace the world has ever known, at daily risk of a French invasion and revolution. In London, a handful of men struggle to protect their country and maintain the war effort. Among them, the Earl of Myddelton, code-breaker to the Foreign Office, strives to crack the most difficult French code yet—the Grand Chiffre—before still more men die on the battlefields of Europe.

Then, on 11 May 1812, the unthinkable happens. The Prime Minister is assassinated. Amid widespread panic and fear of a French conspiracy, the government falls.

From the ballrooms of London, to the backstreets of power, to the death-in-waiting coast of enemy France, Myddelton is drawn inexorably into the deepening crisis—his private life unravelling all the while, as misunderstandings, gossip and spite mar his marriage, and threaten to destroy his career.


First published November 14, 2009

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About the author

M.M. Bennetts

4 books44 followers
Educated at Boston University and St Andrews, M.M. Bennetts is a specialist in the economic, social and military history of Napoleonic Europe. The author is a keen cross-country and dressage rider, as well as an accomplished pianist, regularly performing music of the era as both a soloist and accompanist. Bennetts is a long-standing book critic for The Christian Science Monitor.

The author is married and lives in England.

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5 stars
38 (52%)
4 stars
18 (24%)
3 stars
10 (13%)
2 stars
3 (4%)
1 star
4 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 16 of 16 reviews
Profile Image for Steelwhisper.
Author 5 books403 followers
February 4, 2016
This book frustrated me, and it also made me angry at times, because it could have been a 4* or even 5* instead of the 2.5* I give it.

I absolutely adored most of the author's voice, it read like contemporary (of the Regency period) and was quite clearly very well researched in most parts. There has to have been truly intense linguistic research into the period and I did not doubt for a second that all the historical data were on the spot and even well-understood too.

I loved the uncommon length of it for a Regency romance, I loved the fact that the male main character actually had a profession, and I adored that this depicted an arranged marriage in exactly such matter of fact way as it would have taken place at the time. I loved all the bits about the Napoleonic wars and France, and wished there had been quite a lot more of that.

With which we come to what I didn't like, not at all actually, and to what the reasons are why I do not give a book with such a mindbogglingly wonderful "Regency voice" the 5* it ought to have.

You'd have to do some very fast talking to convince me that a barely 18-year-old virgin of upper middleclass origins, in England, and in 1812 has full knowledge of what takes place during a wedding night.

Here's what Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy recounts of his grandmother:

I can remember my grandmother, who was married in 1899, describing to me how on her wedding day her mother drew her aside and said, "There's just one thing I must tell you, Dorothy. Remember, whatever Gathorne does to you is right."

That's 80 years later. Except for sources which refer to usually already married women of the high aristocracy there is quite simply no clue or hint which would support that virginal girls at the time were aware of the hard biological facts or more directly the basic plumbing and what it does.

Yet either out of the wish for retroactive political correctness or because of one single Freudian historian (with Freud having long since found to be in error multiple times) whose theories are not exactly universally lauded, recently more and more romance authors describe their heroines as knowledgeable, even those who are very young and virginal.

As a result one of the most organic possibilities for conflict gets thrown out of the window. I might just have accepted if now, instead, the author chooses the Napoleonic wars as a source of conflict, including maybe the dejection of the two unwilling parties. But alas! Not so. By the way, I also fail to believe in a husband of the era who refrains from consummation for weeks on end.

Instead we get the classic romance trope of the "Big Misunderstanding", indeed we get it several times an then again another time. And it drags on and on and on. At that point the book became unfortunately boring and plotwise ceased to be above Harlequin romances which have been doing just this all the past decades.

That was truly very disappointing.

Some further nitpicking:

Why would a British lord break out into "Oh my America, my newfound land, my kingdom!" upon lifting the skirts of his quite British wife?

Edit to clarify: In 1812 we have the War of 1812 with the USA. The USA has fought and won independence. John Donne (he of the poem referring to his Mistress in this way) died 1631, barely 20 years after the colonisation of Northern America had begun. Of course he waxes romantic about undiscovered countries (belonging to the Kingdom then of course!).

Myddleton is a totally different era and aware of the fact that "America" is now practically an enemy, especially after Perceval was killed and Liverpool tried to smooth the waves with the USA. As a diplomat and spy Myddleton would of course know about the impending enemities (to happen but a fortnight later). Why the hell should he wax romantic about a country about to open war on his own? He is educated enough to also know that Donne wrote his poem under totally different political conditions.

So these are entirely different things and I can't for the life of me believe that at a moment of sexual endeavour with his British wife he'd say something like that. I find it more than just outlandish. It took me right out of that scene and came over as a major plothole.

I grasped that the author knew about the typical places and clubs famous within the ton. I grasped it about Brummel. I just would have preferred to have a tad less of the ton for once. That were my hopes. Unfortunately this did not follow.

On the whole:

I wished I had been more satisfied with this book. I loved the voice, I loved the authentic language, I loved how offhandedly confident the author was about the historical facts, but at the end of it I was sorely disappointed by the retconned heroine and the tired plot. I will certainly watch out for more books from the author, but I hope she will become fully true to the era and seek out a more individual story.


In hindsight I've decided to up this one star. The more recently written Regencies I read the more obvious it becomes that despite its various deficiencies this is standing way about the general crowd. So, one star more for that.

ETA after the ETA:

I read this yesterday the fourth time. And I still adore it to bits. This one is growing on you, and that deserves the full monty.
Profile Image for Kathy.
3,429 reviews190 followers
June 5, 2020
This is either the third or fourth time i have read this Regency Romance. It has been some years since I last read it and I know each time I will enjoy it even more than the last time.
I will catch up with the second book soon to close the circle and in memory of this wonderful author we lost to cancer in August of 2014. A great loss.
741 reviews320 followers
November 23, 2018
This book had been languishing, forgotten, on my Kindle for perhaps more than a year when it came up in a cyber discussion and reminded me that I should give it a go. It's worth the read but it is a mixed bag, alternating between being interesting historical fiction about England's war efforts against Napoleon and being a rather tedious Regency romance in London's Upper Ten Thousand.

It's obvious that the author is knowledgeable about the history of the period and supplies lots of detail about the political atmosphere within England and the threats outside. The protagonist is Avery, Earl of Myddelton, a translator and code breaker working for the Foreign Office. Through his day-to-day activities and interactions with real historical personages, we get a real feel for the national unrest of the times.

It's only when the book turns to Myddelton's love life that things are a bit tedious. The romance, for someone like me who has read many a Regency romance in her day, in particular through a teenage obsession with Georgette Heyer's work, is very been-there, done-that. Life among the upper-class is minutely detailed, with fashion, social activities, references to customs, architecture, music, the arts, and people of the day such as Beau Brummell, Almack's patronesses,etc. This, I will admit, could have been more interesting if I hadn't already read too much Regency fiction.

The romance itself has many overused tropes, such as failures to communicate, misunderstanding, even that ubiquitous evil "other woman" thrown into the mix, but, in spite of this, I still found myself rooting for the hero and heroine to reach a happy point in their relationship. That means the author did a good enough job in their characterizations, even though Myddelton was a bit erratic in his behavior to his new wife.

All in all, this is a pleasant period piece that seems to be authentic depiction of life and speech as it was then. (One minor point I had an issue with is the heroine's uncle's threat to annul her marriage to Myddelton. It's my understanding that in the 1800s mere non-consummation was not a legitimate reason for an annulment unless impotence could be proven.)
Profile Image for Linda.
Author 14 books69 followers
November 5, 2011
This ambitious novel takes place during the Napoleonic Period and is exquisitely steeped in detail that can only be written by someone who knows their subject well. Reminiscent of Austin and Burney Bennetts creates complex characters and successfully combines the intricacies of their personal relationships with the political intrigue of the larger world.
Profile Image for Joan.
2,196 reviews
December 2, 2017
I read this in two days, (rather a long time for me!) and I am going to start re-reading it probably tonight.

It's a fabulous novel, the writing drawing me into the era with its elegance and mannerisms and dictates. I knew I was onto a winner here when I began to seriously worry about Avery and Jane.

Some scenes were exquisitely written - and the prose was lovely.

Nothing 'jarred', nothing dragged me out of the story, nothing grated and made me sigh with annoyance. Maybe a bit too heavy on the politics, and the facts, but there again, this is not an average 'Historical Romance'. This is solid and meaty and utterly satisfying.

Edit: 10.12.2016. I have just noticed that this review is for the Kindle edition - whereas I have the 'real' book. But I am also going to buy the Kindle version simply because this is a book I love reading and each time I do, I find more to love about it. My only gripe is the sheer size and weigt of the paperback copy!
Profile Image for David.
16 reviews3 followers
July 17, 2011
I usually read nautical books set in the age of sail but on vacation I thought I'd have a change of pace and give this one a try. It is essentially a romance, unsurprisingly from the title, set in the short period of May 1812.

The principal characters are thrust together but despite a seemingly endless series of fateful misunderstandings which seem destined to seperate them romance blossoms. The principal character is a peer on the fringes of government and it was interesting to read what might be described as the 'ballroom diplomacy' of the time.

This is a long book, but despite that the fast paced continual twists and turns of the plot made it hard to put down and I certainly recommend it.
March 5, 2010
History fiction as history fiction should be. A wealth of period detail that makes you feel as though you are experiencing this first hand. A gripping and absorbing story. As crime thrillers were redefined by such writers as James Ellroy and Lawrence Block, so M.M.Bennetts rescues the historical Regency period from poke bonnets and simpering tea parties. Examining the home front in time of war, based around the murder of the Prime Minister, Spencer Percival; and the fear that the French would soon invade, Myddleton seeks answers in the coded French despatches.
Profile Image for Doreen.
Author 2 books10 followers
September 1, 2014
As the title suggests, this book covers just over one month in 1812. It's also a long book, but in my opinion, not a page too long.

The Earl of Myddelton finds out that he was betrothed to a girl by his father, years ago before said parent's untimely death. Now he must marry within a few days. At the same time he's involved in work for the Foreign Office, translating and decoding all hours of the day and night. At the same time, in the wider world, this is the month the Prime Minister, Sir Spencer Percival, is assassinated, and Napoleon embarks on his ill-fated invasion of Russia.

The two stories, public and political, private and intimate, wind around each other. The hero and heroine must somehow come to terms amidst all the distractions, deal with some nasty gossip, and spend enough time together in order to fall in love.

The characters are well done, understandable and likeable, including the secondary characters. There is one sequel published, and I hope more will follow to tell their stories.

Edited 1 September 2014

I re-read this after the sad news of the author's death last week. All I can add is that I wish I could write like this.
4 reviews1 follower
April 13, 2012
I really enjoyed this book, although when I downloaded it I did not realise it was really a romance. It is a very long book, but does not seem so as each character and situation is well thought out and allowed to develop in an unhurried way. The author deftly plots the characters through several twists, turns and about-faces.
The author has a good command of the language and social and military history of the time, indeed the book is set against the backdrop of the assassination of the Prime Minister Sir Spencer Perceval in May 1812.
I highly recommend May 1812 to those of you who enjoy a well written historical romance, but has much to recommend it as a study of social mores of the time.
Profile Image for D.w..
Author 14 books24 followers
February 23, 2014
M.M. Bennetts is a tremendous researcher and grey contributor to the canon of historical fiction. Her work is such that all who like the period should consider time spent with her offering. Then though, one we have this tome.

There are a few things within that take one from truly sitting with the piece and knowing what one is in for. It does too much, at heart. It is not just an historical, for so much is made of the romance, the wedding of our hero. Nor is it a Regency Romance, for so much is made of the history, which has its absurdities within it. Our hero knows or is connected to all that is important at the end of April and beginning of May of 1812, and so we must know all.

Without giving away too much, our hero just can't be that one person who is so caught up in everything that there were none other to carry the water. Nor does that become more so when carrying that water is used as an artifice to prolong the consummation of the romance of our regency romance. In this genre, the romance side, we are used to circumstance getting in the way of consummation, but even at its most silly, the reasoning seems balanced.

Here we have to suspend our disbelief a little. (or a lot) We do find that the hero and heroine are well suited to each other, which also seems an unlikely bit of circumstance (again something we see in Regency Romance), but not necessarily as contrived as this seemed to bring our protagonists together. The last thing that I find hard to lay to rest is that despite often such good history, there are a few places where the research falls through, and Mrs. Bennetts has since argued extensively that her error in the manuscript and research is somehow justified when such is not supported by any primary or secondary source. That is why a star gets deducted.

A good story, tropes integrated if perhaps too over the top, and much to be learned as well.
Profile Image for Katherine.
39 reviews73 followers
June 18, 2012
M.M. Bennetts is, in my opinion, one of the finest writers of historical fiction. This volume begins the author's series that focuses upon the British intelligence service during the Napoleonic Wars. And this volume is as close to a romance as, I think, the series is likely to come -- exploring the relationships between marriageable young men and women at a time when a parent could still force a match. But unlike most romances, here it is the male point of view as a young man-about-town finds his freedom impinged upon just as his work for Britain's spy system become truly hazardous.

Always a superb writer, here Bennetts initiates us into early 19th century manly slang, adding such veracity to the portrayal of physical environment and social circumstances that the reader is given a truly extraordinary sense of authentic immersion in the period. From who else could we have gotten such a blend of elegance and insult as here in a character's accusation, "You, Sir, are a fuckster, Sir!"
Profile Image for Sue Millard.
Author 13 books3 followers
January 14, 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed this historical drama which takes an unusual course through the love story of the Earl of Myddelton and his bride Jane Heron. Some parts are indeed as challenging as its opening chapter forebodes: these include the assassination of the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval - but most of it sparkles with wit and understanding of the period setting, its politics, its gossip and entertainment.

I only give 5 stars to the books that make me go on reading past my bedtime. Well done, M.M.!
12 reviews1 follower
March 25, 2010
Too much focus on S-E-X at the end of the book, but nothing too scandalous (I was never embarrassed or anything) so if you like Regency novels, you'll reall like this one.
1 review
March 10, 2010
This book is absolutely dire. I managed 320 pages but had to give up in the end. If, however, you are obsessed with Regency England or wish that Jane Austen had written more books you may well be able to get to the end of it.
263 reviews
May 4, 2012
A very long slow read with a drawn out plot. Characters very well developed and likeable, but language made the story difficult to follow. Poetry and French verse seemed awkward in the midst of the chapters.
Displaying 1 - 16 of 16 reviews

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