The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour by David Ebsworth with Excerpt and Giveaway

Today I have an historic fiction: by David Ebsworth. Please read on for an excerpt, and don’t forget to enter the tour-wide giveaway where you could win one of 5 copies (Digital or Print) of the title. You can see what others thought about this title by checking the other tour stops

The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour

On the 200th anniversary (2015) of the Battle of Waterloo, David Ebsworth brings a compelling look at the war, the time and two women who are embroiled in the events.  I was not expecting the depth of character displayed in Marianne and Liberte, nor the compelling perspective that juxtaposes against some of the truly epic battle scenes. 

Ebsworth brings a sense of humanity and softness to the very omnipresent threats posed by the ongoing battles, and Marianne, Liberte and their families are neatly woven throughout, moving the sense of time forward between battles and jockeying for position for the next battle.

What I didn’t expect was to find such compelling characters in all aspects of the story: while I’m not in any way a fan of war and battle strategy, there was a beauty in the presentation of the battle bits that gave the struggle its own flavor and presence, almost creating a character from the historic events that are the setting of the story.

What emerges is an intimate look at lives as they struggle to move forward and find a sense of safety amidst ever-present danger, as it lies bare for readers the wishes for life, hopes for future and even how to survive after unthinkable events: how those change both determination and outlook, and whether survival is even possible in the new and changed landscape. Paralleling that struggle for the ages is the clearly researched, graphically presented and strangely compelling story of the battles and struggles on the battlefield – all solidly tied to real events, with clear research informing the author’s retelling.

In what is one of the more unique historic fiction tales I have read, Ebsworth has skillfully manipulated fact and fiction with deft characterization, demanding the reader’s empathy and emotional investment in a story that could have easily been a clinical and dry recount of June 1815.

The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour by David Ebsworth with Excerpt and Giveaway

Title: The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour
Author: David Ebsworth
Published by: SilverWood Books
Published on: 1 December 2014
Pages: 348
Rated: four-stars
Get Your Copy: Amazon iTunes Downpour Book Depository Google
See this Title on Goodreads

June 1815. Bonaparte has returned from Elba and marches with his army to defeat the Prussian and English enemies of France. Within his ranks is Marianne Tambour, a battle-weary canteen mistress for a battalion of the Imperial Guard’s Foot Grenadiers. Just one of the many cantinières who provide the lads with their brandy and home comforts, both in camp and also in the thick of the fight.

Marianne is determined that, after this one last campaign, she will make a new life for herself and her young daughter, since neither of them has ever known anything but the rigours of warfare. But she has not reckoned on the complications that will arise from a chance encounter with another of the army’s women, Liberté Dumont – Dragoon trooper and sometimes spy for the Machiavellian French Minister of Police, Fouché. And Marianne wonders what she really wants, this hawk-faced trooper with her visions, dreams and fancies.

Yet, for now, Liberté Dumont is the least of Marianne’s worries. Her position as canteen mistress has not been easily won and she has made enemies in the process. Lethal enemies. And creating a new life, breaking with the army, needs money. Lots of money. So when Hawk-face Dumont accidentally provides an opening for Marianne to rid herself of a dangerous rival and also extends the possibility of fortunes to be made, it looks like an opportunity too good to be refused.

The battles that both women must survive, however, at Ligny and Quatre Bras, create their own problems. The closer they come to the English Goddams, the more Marianne is haunted by the memory of the way her adopted mother was butchered at their hands just a few years earlier, in Spain. Thoughts of revenge torment her, distract her from her goals. But her daughter’s capture by the Prussians, and Liberté Dumont’s help in the quest to find the girl creates new and very different bonds, between mother and daughter, and between the two women themselves.

The climax will take place on the blood-soaked fields of Waterloo, where Marianne Tambour and Liberté Dumont must each confront their deadliest foes, their worst nightmares, find answers to the secrets of their respective pasts, and try to simply survive the slaughter. Yet the fortunes of war are not easily won, and the fates may, after all, only allow one of these women to see the next day’s dawn.

David Ebsworth’s story, The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour: A Novel of Waterloo, is based upon the real-life exploits of two women who fought, in their own right, within Bonaparte’s army.

A copy of this title was provided via Publisher for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.



Chapter One

Wednesday 14th June 1815, 2.00pm


The boning knife flashed from the left, flensed the lower buttons from Marianne’s coat in the instant she jumped back, a reflex from the strange gift of premonition – or perhaps it was a curse – that she possessed.

The other woman, Lomballe, had come at her from the cover of a pig-shed, as Marianne picked her way between the outbuildings of a roofless and tree-grown ruin, seeking to avoid the road itself, busy and clogged with horse-drawn guns or their long ammunition carriages, supply carts, straggling units of horse or foot. And now the assassin recovered from her failed charge, was making another.

‘Bitch!’ screamed Lomballe, as Marianne, swinging the precious brandy cask hanging at her side, deflected the blade coming for her in a sabre grip, point first, in the manner of the Sicilians. But she registered this quickly, all her concentration focused on flight.

Recovering the small barrel, Marianne gripped the strap to keep it tight against her stomach and rolled against the low wall alongside, clumsily throwing herself across the tumbled stonework as the knife slashed the air behind her. She landed in nettles on the far side, recovered quickly and stood, grasping a smaller slab and hurling it almost blindly at Lomballe. But it was enough to make her attacker flinch, to draw breath. For the wall was now between them and the odds no longer so unequal. Yet Marianne could not afford to waste the opportunity for survival, so she kept moving, keeping to her own side of the barrier, panting slightly, her gaze locked to that of the other woman. Stooping fast to collect another manageable rock, she hefted it in her hand as Lomballe followed, keeping pace on the other side.

Marianne reached the corner, feinted back the way she had come, for she did not want to leave the wall’s protection. Not yet. There was a chastity knife tucked inside her bodice, the little salvavirgo she had acquired in Spain, but she knew it was no use to her now. She had seen people attacked with knives many times before, had considerable experience of the thing herself. Yet she could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times the victim had enough time to draw a weapon of their own. The soldiers often bragged about knife fights, though knife attacks were stabbings, not fights. There was no such thing as a knife fight. When people came at you with a knife, they meant to murder you, not fight you. And it mattered not one jot how fast you were, for you would never be quick enough to beat somebody who already had a blade in their hand. You could only beat somebody to the draw if your opponent was incompetent or afraid. And Lomballe was neither of those things. If you were lucky, you learned these lessons when you were young. If you did not, you were dead. So Marianne knew that in the time it would take her to fumble with the remaining jacket buttons, Lomballe would be across that wall and finish her.

‘You won’t get the commission back whatever happens,’ said Marianne. ‘You know that, cornade?’

She had previously served as canteen-mistress with a line battalion. Yet that was all before the Emperor’s exile, of course. Before Fronsac’s transfer to the Guard when the Emperor had returned from Elba. Then, since this new battalion’s canteen-mistress, Lomballe, had lost her husband, it had seemed perfectly reasonable to Marianne that she should herself make application to the Regiment’s Administration Council, proposing that the commission pass to her. After all, a canteen-mistress without a commission was a woman without an honest penny to her name, a woman reliant on her husband’s already modest rations.

‘You think not?’ snarled Lomballe. ‘Battle tomorrow. Or the next day. You think they’ll not want their dainties?’

The Council members had been reluctant, however. Lomballe’s husband was a popular fellow. There was sympathy for his widow, for without her income she would likely die by the roadside. And although they reasoned there was every chance she might marry again, they could not escape the regulation requiring each canteen-mistress to be wed. If an alternative had not arisen, of course, they would doubtless have let matters lie. But faced with Marianne’s application, her reminder of the rules, her experience, her own marriage to Fronsac, they had no real option except to grant her, with evident displeasure, the commission she sought.

All she had to do was stay alive long enough to enjoy it. She weighed Lomballe carefully now. Not entirely ugly, despite her mastiff’s face. A tall and strong woman. She must have been to haul her cart all the way to Moscow and back. Well, perhaps not all the way back, but she always pulled her own cart, that was the thing. Never used horse nor donkey, they said.

‘Fronsac will kill you for me,’ Marianne yelled, wondering how those others, who moments before had been all around her on the road, had now disappeared so efficiently.

Lomballe set her free hand – her right hand – on the wall, as though she would try to vault it, but Marianne swung her own arm back, hefting the small slab and threatening to let fly. At the same time she tried to look behind her, to work out how far she would have to run, to see whether there was any escape route there for her at all. There must be a door, she thought, but she had not noticed one. Only fallen roof timbers, saplings that had taken root alongside the still intact chimney, the rustling spread of summer leaves against brick, a stink of soldiers’ piss.

‘Afraid to fight me yourself, bitch?’ Lomballe replied. ‘Let me come in there with you and we’ll settle this properly. You must have a pricker of your own, eh? Where is it, sweetie? Inside the jacket?’

It was a trick, of course. The result would be the same. Marianne would step back and go for her own knife. But she would be dead before she had its grip. She met a Spaniard once who tried to teach her about knife fighting. It was a joke. He was teaching her how to fight a duel. Toe to toe. Like the fencing rules of gentlemen. Except the gitanos were no gentlemen. Though they still had their bloody rules. Their so-called honour.

Knife fights aren’t like that! she thought. The very last thing you wanted to do when somebody attacked you was to fight. It was hard to resist, of course. It was a human thing, after all. To see whether you had what it took. But in practice it was usually better to run away. And once you made up your mind to run, your instincts would safely take over. Even when you thought you were cornered. Amazing how easy it was to wriggle your way out of the most impossible jam. Yet the one thing you must not do was dither. Dither and you were dead too. Never let pride and ego blind you to your death. If you had the upper hand, kill them. If not, then run.

‘Fair enough! Let’s do it,’ she laughed, lowered the stone to her side, took a pace back, saw the wicked smile on Lomballe’s face as the woman shifted her weight, hitched her skirts and set a foot on the wall. There was the smallest instant when her eyes went down, to check she had a decent grip, and in that instant Marianne flung the rock with every ounce of force that she could muster. Lomballe caught the movement, her head jerked down and to the left. And Marianne was unsure whether her own aim was luckily misplaced, or if she had genuinely calculated that her enemy would flinch that way, in the direction of the hand she favoured. But in any case, she heard rather than saw the impact of stone on flesh, the small scream of fury from Lomballe’s broken lips and rotten teeth. She heard them as she ran.

It was no demonstration of athletic prowess either, but a clumsy scramble, impeded in part by the pair of woven reticule pouches that she wore beneath the nankeen trousers to guard her daily takings. At the same time, she was forced to keep one nettle-rashed hand on the brandy cask, the other seeking a steady purchase on the collapsed beams that barred her way, causing her to clamber onto their lower ends. Then she saw the doorway, part concealed by rampant shrubs. It offered escape to the road beyond, and sanctuary among the traffic which, she was sure, must still be thick upon its rutted path. Yet there was no time to dwell on that. She was over the timbers, scrambling over a mound of masonry, wrestling with the scratching shrubbery, turning to see Lomballe’s filthy blood-smeared face behind her.

Marianne almost fell as the branches finally yielded to her frantic pressure, allowing her to jump down into a ditch. And then she was heaving herself on hands and knees up a bank on the other side, clogs scrabbling for a purchase until she tumbled onto the road itself, lacking all dignity, her cheek pressed in the dirt as she stared directly into the hooves of cavalrymen heading north. She rolled over, out of their path, dusted herself down and seeing no sign of Lomballe, she winked her eye at the astonished captain of Dragoons leading the squadron.





About David Ebsworth

David Ebsworth is the pen name of writer, Dave McCall,
a former negotiator and Regional Secretary for Britain’s Transport & General Workers’ Union.

He was born in Liverpool (UK) but has lived for the past thirty years in Wrexham, North Wales, with his wife, Ann.
Since their retirement in 2008, the couple have spent about six months of each year in southern Spain.

Dave began to write seriously in the following year, 2009,
and The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour is his fourth novel.

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