The year is 1809, and the recruiting sergeants are hard at work, as the British army gathers strength for the next phase of the campaign against Bonaparte on the Spanish Peninsula. Captain Billy Pringle of the 106th Foot, however, has a somewhat more urgent reason to leave the country: having become embroiled in an ill-advised duel with a lieutenant in the 14th Light Dragoons, a posting to Spain would avoid any awkwardness for the regiment.
Along with his friend Lieutenant Williams - whose sister Kitty was the cause of the duel - and the doughty veteran Sergeant Dobson, Pringle takes on the task of training Spanish troops to stand alongside their British allies. But what seems at first like easy duty soon turns into a desperate fight for survival as they find themselves besieged in the strategic fortress of Cuidad Rodrigo.
For Bonaparte, taking the fortress will be the first step towards pushing the British back to the sea, and the task is entrusted to one of his most daring and successful generals, Marshal Ney. And Ney in his turn has found the perfect officer to lead the assault, a man not only desperate for advancement but also thirsting for revenge - a man whom Williams knows only too well.
But while the 106th Foot fights a desperate rearguard action, for the newly promoted Hamish Williams, the retreat turns into an unexpectedly personal drama. Separated from the rest of the army in the initial chaos, he chances upon another fugitive, Jane MacAndrews, the daughter of his commanding officer, and the woman he is desperately and hopelessly in love with. As the pair battle the elements and the pursuing French, picking up a rag-tag band of fellow stragglers along the way - as well as an abandoned newborn - the strict boundaries of their social relationship are tested to the limit, with surprising results.
But Williams soon finds he must do more than simply evade capture and deliver Jane safe and sound to her father. A specially tasked unit of French cavalry is threatening to turn the retreat into a massacre, and Williams and his little band are the only thing standing between them and their goal.
But if Napoleon is to be ejected from Spain, war must also be waged in more covert ways. For Hanley, the former artist who is a more natural observer than fighter, the opportunity to become an 'exploring officer' leads him into even more dangerous territory, the murky world of politics and partisans. And while Ensign Williams seeks to uncover the identity of the mysterious 'Heroine of Saragossa', a conspiracy of revenge within the regiment itself threatens to destroy him before he's even faced a shot from the French.
Meet the men of the 106th Foot, a new regiment staffed by young gentlemen who know nothing of war. William Hanley is in the army because he has no other livelihood. Hamish Williams, a man without money or influence, is hoping war will make his name. Their friend Billy Pringle believes the rigours of combat will keep him from the drinking and womanising that are his undoing. And for George Wickham, battle is simply another means of social climbing.
When the band of four are plunged into a savage war against the veteran armies of Napoleon, they find their illusions shattered and their lives changed for ever as they face the brutality of the battlefield . . .
Combining the vivid detail of a master historian with the engaging characters and pulsating action of a natural storyteller, True Soldier Gentlemen is perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell, Patrick O'Brian, C.S. Forester, Allan Mallinson and Simon Scarrow.
'It's so well written, flows so well, that the detail does not drag you down . . . a fantastic read, well written, well laid out and absorbing from start to finish' Goodreads reviewer
'Having now read quite a few novels set during the Napoleonic Wars, I was extremely impressed by Adrian Goldsworthy's knowledge of the period and his ability to relate this to the reader without it reading like a history text' Goodreads reviewer