In Bailén, Gabriel de Araceli is miraculously recovering from the grave wounds received by the firing squad during the aftermath of the Dos de Mayo Uprising. Taken for dead, he has been parted from his dear Inés, who has flown to Andalusia and joined a convent. Gabriel, penniless and desperate, joins the insurgent Spanish Army of Andalusia led by Generals Francisco Castaños and Theodor von Reding. Once more, he finds himself part of a historic occasion: the first defeat of the Napoleonic Army in the Battle of Bailén.
I'm going to keep this review very short, because I don't have many things to say about this. It was a bit of a letdown. It is well written and fast paced, and ends up in a cliffhanger that had me wishing I had the next book near to start reading it immediately. But (you know a but was coming) it was a bit flat.
Inés has been legitimized by her family, and her new social status forces her to marry someone from a noble house. As a result, Gabriel is no longer a proper suitor. This is the main crux of the story, and it makes for a quick read, but not a very interesting one. Gabriel has taken to heart his role as a white knight and is determined to become worthy of Inés. Unfortunately, Inés has been definitely relegated to object, so we don't get a glimpse of what she thinks of her newfound family or how she feels about the turmoil that her personal life has become. I do feel sorry for them, but I wish the characters were more real (and thus more easy to feel attached to them) since the story relies fully on them.
At the same time, they are merely an excuse to show historical events. In the previous three books, Galdós shines at describing this. He shows why they happened and the consequences they had. He didn't shy away from showing the horrors of war. Yet in Bailén he faced a conundrum: he must show a battle in good light. Why was this independence from France better? Spaniards are portrayed as brutish and uneducated, but noble and with good heart. He has been showing why French enlightment would be good for Spain, but here shows that Frenchmen are also savages. So the violent Spanish insurgence is worthy of appraisal. As a result, the Battle of Bailén is just described, but not reflected upon. The images are as vivid as always, and I would swap any history textbooks for these novels, but the pithy thoughts from other novels are absent in this one. And so it fells flat.