“Sharpe’s Havoc,” by Bernard Cornwell

10 Sep

“Sharpe’s Havoc,” by Bernard Cornwell (369p)
Richard Sharpe and the Campaign in Northern Portugal, Spring 1809

Sharpe’s Havoc follows on from Sharpe’s Rifles, set a few months after the escape from French forces and the uprising in Santiago de Compostela. Written in 2003, Sharpe’s Havoc tells the story of Richard Sharpe and the remains of the 95th Rifles in northern Portugal in the early months of 1809.

Tasked by Maj. Hogan, Sharpe is instructed to rescue a stranded English girl at a family retreat in the suburbs outside Oporto. The girl is a member of a family of wine merchants whose home just so happens to be behind enemy lines in country now occupied by Marshal Soult’s marauding army that had chased the British deep into Portugal. It doesn’t take long for Sharpe and his men to reach the home but they soon find out the girl doesn’t want to leave either. As well as that, they are joined by a Portuguese officer, Captain Jorge Vicente, who is a welcome addition as he provides a certain level headedness and rationality that is missing with only Sharpe and Harper in command.

Sharpe is then in a desperate fight as the French, tipped off by an undercover agent, learn of his presence and set out to attack him. Trapped in the hills what ensues is the usual Sharpe fight – badly out-numbered and out-gunned, the Rifles stage a tremendous showdown with the inexperienced French cavalry. Their escape, with the English girl in tow (Kate Savage) is very well written.

From there, Sharpe learns the identity of the undercover French agent operating in the British army. The story then moves to a fight at the walls of Oporto where Soult’s surprised forces are battered by the well protected British. With the French defeated Sharpe sets off after the French spy in the Portuguese mountains where the story reaches its conclusion as the retreating French forces are battered again, and they receive more bad news: Arthur Wellesley had arrived.

All in all, this is a very run of the mill novel. As with Sharpe’s Prey it offers nothing in the way of moving the story forward other than to be a gap between two significant moments in Sharpe’s overall story, and so we learn nothing new about Sharpe’s character and the like. The evolution of Sharpe and Harper’s relationship is strengthened, but as with a lot of the prequels written after Sharpe’s Devil they are somewhat constricted by what transpires in future novels. As a result it is formulaic and easy to predict, following the usual path of Sharpe novels.

But I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would. The fight outside Oporto really was well written and it really did feel as though Sharpe could lose at any second. While the identity of the undercover spy was easy to guess Sharpe’s determination to bring him to punishment – Sharpe style – was good stuff. This is a great novel for pure entertainment value. Isn’t that what reading is about anyway?

7/10.

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