“Sharpe’s Gold,” by Bernard Cornwell

11 Sep

“Sharpe’s Gold,” by Bernard Cornwell (296p)
Richard Sharpe and the Destruction of Almeida, August 1810

Following on from Sharpe’s Eagle comes the second novel written by Bernard Cornwell in 1981, Sharpe’s Gold. Chronologically this is the ninth in the Sharpe series. Set just over a year after the events at Talavera, Sharpe’s Gold depicts the destruction of the frontier city of the Almeida as the French pursue the British back into Portugal.

Sharpe, his gazetted captaincy hanging precariously on a rope, is tasked by Maj. Hogan and Lt. Gen. Arthur Wellesley, Viscount Wellington to retrieve a huge pile of Spanish gold now behind French lines. That gold is so highly valued by Wellington that Sharpe is even unaware of why he has to retrieve, all he knows is that he just has to get the gold no matter what.

Soon, Sharpe uncovers the whereabouts of the gold and incurs the wrath of Spanish partisans reluctant to hand over the gold to Wellington. After suitably angering the partisans Sharpe is chased through mountains of western Spain and into Portugal, where he takes refuge in the fortress at Almeida. Along the way Sharpe begins to fall for a captured partisan, Teresa Moreno, which is rather par of the course for Sharpe and Teresa is Sharpe’s Gold’s Sharpegirl.

At Almeida Sharpe is trapped. On one side is the French who, under the leadership of Marshal Ney, are about to begin sieging the city in their quest to take Portugal. On the other side is Sharpe’s other great enemy: army bureaucracy. The commander at Almeida, Gen. William Cox, refuses to believe Sharpe about his secret mission and demands that the gold be returned to the Spanish partisans.

Determined to fulfil his mission to Wellington Sharpe sets about escaping from Almeida’s soon-to-be-sieged walls by blowing a massive hole through the walls, his plan was to destroy the magazine stowed away the town’s cathedral. The mammoth explosion, masked by French shells landing over Almeida’s walls, sees over 600 British soldiers die. Sharpe then escapes from Almeida with the gold and hands it over to Wellington, where he learns about its importance – Wellington needed it to pay for the Lines of Torres Vedras.

Perhaps because this is a second novel, which are notoriously difficult to write anyway, that I found that the magic of Sharpe’s Eagle was missing in Sharpe’s Gold. It just didn’t grab me and hold my attention like many of its predecessors did, and I felt as though I had to force myself to read it simply because it was by my favourite author and because it was Sharpe. Either way, I found it exceptionally to get excited by it and just wanted it to finish despite being such a short novel.

Mainly it is the plot itself. The plot of Sharpe’s Gold just is not as gripping or as enthralling as it was in Sharpe’s Eagle. The villain (El Católico) of this one does not hold a candle to Sir Henry Simmerson. The only memorable character is the first appearance by one of Sharpe’s future wives, Teresa Moreno. It did not have the entertainment value or the believability of the Sharpe’s Eagle, and I felt as though it just trundled along until the South Essex reached Almeida, where the ending was rather rushed and lacked in believability. Sharpe may be a killer but the reckless murder of hundreds of British soldiers would surely upset him, yet he showed little remorse.

But, still. It was a second novel and it was bound to dip a little in quality. We are lucky that subsequent Sharpe’s are just so much better as Cornwell learned his craft.



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