“Sharpe’s Trafalgar,” by Bernard Cornwell

10 Sep

“Sharpe’s Trafalgar,” by Bernard Cornwell (384p)
Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Trafalgar, October 1805

After Richard Sharpe leaves India, he must get home. That is the premise of the fourth instalment in the Richard Sharpe series, Sharpe’s Trafalgar. Written in 2000, this novel is a gap between Sharpe’s years in India and the beginning of the original first-era Sharpe novels set in Spain and Portugal in the Peninsular War, and takes place in 1805 and at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Just what is Richard Sharpe doing at Trafalgar? Well, for one thing, he isn’t meant to be there at all. The first half of the novel deals with Sharpe aboard a cargo ship, the Calliope, and how Sharpe gets from there to a British man-of-war heading for the greatest naval battle in history. There, Sharpe assists the British against the French and Spanish and before the battle there is a wonderful cameo by the Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson. Despite being a departure from the norm in Sharpe, the battle is described as good as anything Cornwell has written in other works. It’s breathtaking, thrilling and action packed.

Despite the limitations of being aboard a ship the whole time, Sharpe’s Trafalgar tells a compelling story. There is far less action – the big battle at the end aside – than normal for a Sharpe novel. However, Cornwell compensates for this by focusing on developing the younger Sharpe’s character and fleshing out the details that are just taken at face value in the later novels. He deals with Sharpe’s nervousness around people around of higher classes, his lack of confidence and belief in himself, and his perennial ability to fall head over heals for a Sharpegirl. This Sharpegirl, Lady Grace Hale, later becomes pregnant with Sharpe’s first child.

I think mainly Cornwell wrote Sharpe’s Trafalgar for himself. Richard Sharpe is inspired by Horatio Hornblower and Cornwell is a big fan of naval fiction himself. It serves little purpose for advancing the Sharpe story aside from the fleshing out of his character – he receives no promotion and there is no involvement by Wellington, so it is hardly crucial to read.

But I enjoyed it. Many Sharpe fans don’t, but I quite liked it. It was something different. Cornwell is a good enough writer to make it interesting and the day-to-day life on an early 19th century ship is particularly entertaining. Equally, I think this is perhaps the most stand-alone of all the Sharpe novels as the back-story and plays little role in this story, so if you want to sample Sharpe then this is a good one to read.

7.5/10.

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