Casca: Napoleon's Soldier
by Tony Roberts
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Number 30 in a series originally written by Barry Sadler, Casca: Napoleon's Soldier finds the Eternal Mercenary marching through Poland, a private in Napoleon's army on its way to begin the doomed Russian Campaign of 1812. The first Casca novel, The Eternal Mercenary, introduced Casca Rufio Longinus, cursed by the crucified Jesus to perpetual life as a soldier after he pierced Jesus's side with his lance. Over the centuries, he has become both the quintessential soldier and a cynic who, having fought on one side or the other in most of history's important wars, realizes war is no glorious endeavor (though individual encounters can be satisfying).
"He thought back to some dicey situations, and accepted it all with a shrug. How do you worry about getting out of Russia with her armies closing in all around you in winter when you've had your heart cut out on top of a Teotec pyramid?" The suspense never reaches fever pitch: Casca has seen just about everything, so nothing surprises him. And while he tries to avoid injury with its consequent suffering, both he and the reader know he cannot die. With a production rate of two Casca books a year, readers shouldn't expect polished prose and must tolerate sloppy proofreading. But the battle scenes deliver vivid impressions, like the "ear-cringing roar of shots ... and the rotten egg smell of the discharged powder."
Subplots perk up the story. French soldiers loot a Polish village, and Longue (as the French call him) makes a promise to a dying woman that proves difficult to fulfill. He protects a saucy Polish beauty from a deadly attack and later takes his shirt off to defend her from a bully. Seeing his "multi-scarred and hugely muscled torso," Marianka "ran her tongue over her lips. Oh, what a body!" Longue's curiosity about her past and his need to protect her from thugs in and out of Napoleon's army spice up the intervals between battles. (2009, 182 pages)
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Note: The Casca novels are listed together on the Ancient History page
Other novels about Napoleon's Russian Campaign:
The Officer’s Prey by Armand Cabasson (2007), a thriller about a French officer investigating a murder during Napoleon's Russian campaign; #1 in the Quentin Margont mystery series. More info
The Retreat by Patrick Rambaud, (English translation 2004), #2 in Rambaud's Napoleonic trilogy. More info
Against a Crimson Sky by James Conroyd Martin (2006), about the Polish countess Anna Maria Berezowska as Napoleon's armies march across Europe to invade Russia, offering hope that Poland may be reunited; sequel to Push Not the River. More info
Nonfiction about Napoleon's Russian Campaign:
Moscow 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March by Adam Zamoyski (2004).
1812: Napoleon's Russian Campaign by Richard K. Riehn (1991). More info
Napoleon's Invasion of Russia by George Nafziger (1984). More info
"Napoleon's Invasion of Russia in 1812" by Karl von Clausewitz at napoleonistyka.atspace.com
Napoleon's Retreat from Moscow by Adolf Northen, 1851
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