Into the Valley of Death by A.L. Berridge
1854 – The Allied armies prepare to besiege the Russian stronghold in the Crimea
Harry Ryder is a maverick hero. Resentful of the army that destroyed his father and his own career, he has no time for incompetent commanders. He clashes with his superiors as fiercely as he fights the Russians.
Four men, one woman and a game of cards will change everything and alter the course of a war.
Something evil has crept into the ranks of the British Army’s own officers, an unknown enemy who plans lure men to ruin on the battlefields. The only path to victory lies in uncovering the truth, but to find it and confront his own destiny Ryder must charge with the Light Brigade into the Valley of Death itself…
Taking its name from a line in the famous Tennyson poem, Into the Valley of Death covers the events that lead up to and the fallout from, the ill-fated Charge of The Light Brigade. I have to admit that prior to reading this novel the extent of my knowledge regarding the Charge of the Light Brigade, and the Crimean War as a whole, was somewhat limited. I’ve only ever read Flashman at the Charge by George MacDonald Fraser, and anyone who has ever read any of Flashy’s exploits will know that for the most part they tend to be played for laughs.
As a lead character Harry Ryder typifies the spirit of the Victorian age. He is courageous to a fault, endlessly determined and entirely willing to give his life for a cause he believes in. It’s nice to see that he’s not entirely perfect though. At times, he exhibits a cocky attitude that does have a tendency to get him into trouble. His iconoclastic approach to following orders is sometimes his undoing, but it also makes him feel more real.
The other soldiers that Ryder meets help to flesh out the cast of characters. I have to admit I was a fan of the brash Highlander, Niall Mackenzie, but then I may just be a little bit biased. Mackenzie’s no-nonsense approach to the whole battle was a highlight. It’s the camaraderie the Ryder finds amongst the rank and file that adds a much needed human face to the events as the plot unfolds.
From the initial badly executed troop landings through to the ill-fated charge and its bloody aftermath, Berridge’s writing deftly captures the frenetic chaos of the entire Battle of Balaklava. During the build up there are numerous scenes where the tension is almost unbearable. I particularly enjoyed the moment where Harry and his comrades find themselves trapped in a ravine in the midst of a Mexican standoff with their opponents.
You would be wrong, however, to think that this book is purely all about the action that takes place in the heat of battle. The plot includes a shadowy conspiracy that helps to ramp up the tension. Who can be trusted and who are the traitors?
Berridge also manages to explore some insightful social commentary regarding the differences between the classes and their attitudes to the war. Some officers have an almost clinical approach to proceedings, while others consider the war little more than a game. Meanwhile, the regular soldiers are driven by much stronger bonds of friendship and loyalty to one another. The class barriers that existed between these groups helped to cause all manner of miscommunications leading in turn to errors in judgment and ultimately many unwarranted deaths.
This novel is the first in a new series, and I have to admit I am curious about where things are going to go next. In this book Harry Ryder is firmly established as a rebellious hero who will fight till the bitter end for Queen and country. For Ryder, the outcome of the battle offers the potential of a new and unexpected career which would most likely lead to further adventures. I very much look forward to reading them.
Into the Valley of Death is published by Penguin and is available now.