Tag Archives: Richard Sharpe

“Sharpe’s Company,” by Bernard Cornwell

16 Feb

“Sharpe’s Company,” by Bernard Cornwell (332p)

Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Badajoz, January-April 1812

The third novel he had ever written, and originally published in 1982, Sharpe’s Company continues the story of British Rifleman Richard Sharpe during the Napoleonic Wars. It is a new year, 1812, the most tumultuous year of the Napoleonic wars, and Britain is finally ready to march into Spain itself. Standing in its way were the twin fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and the monstrous, towering citadel of Badajoz, which the British must take if it were to drive France out of occupied Spain.

The story begins with the assault on Ciudad Rodrigo, which was the northern barrier into Spain. Sharpe and Harper lead an assault on the French and are apart of the party which successfully breaches into the city, overwhelming the French defenders and capturing Ciudad Rodrigo. Unfortunately, during the assault Sharpe’s commander and long-time friend Col. William Lawford is severely wounded when a mine is detonated, losing an arm and retires from his post as commander of the regiment. Sharpe, saddened by the lose of his friend, has new issues to worry about as Lawford’s departure meant a new colonel would arrive, and that also placed Sharpe’s captaincy (his gazette had yet to be confirmed) over the Light Company in severe jeopardy. It gets worse for Sharpe, though, when his old enemy, Obadiah Hakeswill makes his return. Hakeswill’s hatred of Sharpe and Sharpe’s of Hakeswill sees them soon feuding when Hakeswill makes his first attempts to wrap the Light Company around his fingers by attempting to rape Sharpe’s mistress and the mother of his child, Teresa Moreno.

Lawford’s replacement, Col. Windham, arrives into camp as Sharpe finished dealing with Hakeswill. With him is Sharpe’s replacement: Cap. Rymer. Sharpe is demoted back to lieutenant and placed in charge of the baggage train as the regiment digs trenches around Badajoz. While visiting the men the French attack but neither side is able to use its weapons due to the rain and it turns into a fight with shovels and spades, eventually seeing the French attackers run back to the city. But in Sharpe’s absence the baggage train had been ransacked – by Hakeswill – and the sergeant made his move against Harper, planting a prized possession of the colonel’s in Harper’s belongings. Harper is flogged sixty times as punishment and demoted to private, handing full control of the company to Hakeswill as Rymer is incapable of leadership.

As Britain prepares for its assault on Badajoz, Windham is charged with leading an expedition to blow up a section of the fortifications. Before the attack, Harper’s seven-barrelled gun, a gift from Sharpe, is taken from him by Hakeswill, as it is a non-regulation weapon. When the Light Company takes longer than expected Windham sends Sharpe to find out the cause of the delay. Sharpe arrives to see the Light Company doing nothing due to Rymer’s incompetence. Sharpe fires at a French sentry and decides to blow the wall himself. Riflemen give him cover fire as he attempts to light the fuse on the powder barrels and barrels explode, but the wall is too strong to be destroyed. As Sharpe falls back into the dam he is shot in the leg by Hakeswill, using Harper’s seven-barrelled gun, until being rescued by Harper.

Sharpe recovers from his wounds quickly enough but is dealt another blow by Windham – he is removed from the company all together under the pretence of allowing Rymer to gain control of the Light Company. Hakeswill continues to control the company, however, and soon sees to it that the Rifleman attached to the South Essex<sup>1</sup> are stripped of their honours, rifles and green jackets, and all returned to the level of redcoat privates. Sharpe intervenes and humiliates Hakeswill by pretending to shoot him with the discarded rifles, to which Hakeswill vows revenge by getting to Teresa, who is in Badajoz, before Sharpe does. Sharpe seemingly might not even be participating in the battle after Wellington picks his brain over the strength of the breach; the general refuses Sharpe’s request to lead the Forlorn Hope (called forlorn as it meant certain death, “somebody has to go first”) and instead will guide those men into position and falling back. Wellington explains his reason to Sharpe as he thinks Sharpe is too valuable otherwise sacrifice during an attack which will likely result in a heavy loss of life.

Sharpe nevertheless ignores Wellington’s order and finds his way back to the Light Company. Upon arrival he finds them devastated by cannon fire, Rymer dead and Windham attempting to lead the attack on the breach. Sharpe resumes leadership of the company and takes them over the breach. Captain Knowles, Sharpe’s old lieutenant, is the first into Badajoz and his men overrun the remaining French defenders and begin to break into homes, raping women and pillaging and destroying. Hakeswill had also managed to climb into Badajoz after conveniently disappearing during the siege, and armed with a bayonet and pistol he sets off in the direction of Teresa Moreno’s home. Knowles reached Teresa’s house first but Hakeswill, who had been following, climbed to the upstairs room where the baby Antonia is and as Knowles enters, Hakeswill shoots him. He then threatens to kill the baby unless Teresa has sex with him as Sharpe and Harper had fought their way across Badajoz. They meet Hakeswill face-to-face in Teresa’s bedroom, only wresting away the child and Teresa when Harper provokes Hakeswill’s madness, but the rogue sergeant escapes through a window, running off into the Spanish night as a deserter. Following the siege Harper is returned as a sergeant and the riflemen have their green jackets returned to them, and Sharpe is praised for his bravery and loyalty, now officially made a captain of his Light Company.

I liked Sharpe’s Company quite a lot. It is one of the Sharpe novels written before the series really took off, still in Cornwell’s infancy as a writer. Thus, like all the early Sharpe novels, it’s a simple story with an easy to follow plot. By no means is it a by the numbers adventure tale – which, unfortunately, some of the later Sharpe novels closer resemble – because in Sharpe’s Company, Cornwell began to properly expand the character and his world by introducing more side characters with their own backgrounds and roles to the story. Hakeswill represents this and would later become extended beyond just the one novel, becoming Cornwell’s favourite villain. Other developments to Sharpe’s character also include facing adversity from within the army, which I enjoyed as something different because at times Sharpe’s independence and free will of the norm is often taken to beyond believable lengths. In Sharpe’s Company he is often brought back down to earth and that’s an important aspect to any character’s development. So to is the emphasis on the bond Sharpe has with his men because such a bond is a crucial side to successful groups of men. Cornwell went to great lengths to explain how and why Sharpe has such a command of the Light Company, a change from the common mistrust and feelings of lack of support that he endured in the earlier novels.

Easy to read, Sharpe’s Company is certainly up there among my favourites in the Sharpe series. There is a certain rawness to the story and the feel of the novel itself that, I think, many fans of this genre and novels like this will find appealing. Obviously, if you had read the previous Sharpe’s there is no reason for you to stop as the remaining novels – the “original series” – are all fantastic. As I always say when reviewing Sharpe novels is if this review has interested you into reading the Sharpe series than go back to the start and read from there. While this novel would actually be great as a stand-alone anyway you would be really missing out on what is a truly fantastic historical fiction series by one of this generation’s great storytellers.



“Sharpe’s Battle,” by Bernard Cornwell

23 Jan

“Sharpe’s Battle,” by Bernard Cornwell
Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, May 1811 (387p)

Sharpe’s Battle is the twelfth book in the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. Written in 1995 at the behest of the production company behind the Sharpe television series (and thus out of order from the original series), it was ordered by them to provide added filler in the series and is dedicated to Sean Bean. It tells the story of the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro in May of 1811.

Sharpe and the rest of the South Essex had been tasked to do dull patrolling and scouting on the fringes of the Spanish-Portuguese frontier, a wild and lawless land where neither side had any control. The villages are deserted and people are scarce, but there is a reason for that – the detached French battalion of Brigade Loup, led by the ruthless Brigadier Guy Loup. Sharpe encounters Loup in a recently ravaged village, capturing two of his men caught raping teenage girls. Sharpe, without authorisation, orders them to be executed. Despite Loup’s pleas to hand the men over and allow him to discipline them, Sharpe carries out the executions by firing squad and makes an enemy of Loup off the bat, the fur skin covered Frenchmen swearing vengeance on Sharpe and his men. Back at army headquarters, Sharpe is tasked by Wellington to take temporary command of a Spanish guards regiment sent from the exiled King Ferdinand, the Real Compañía Irlandesa, and train them into proper troops. But that isn’t really the plan. Suspicion is rife that the guard is full of French spies and so Sharpe’s real task is to treat them so mercilessly and make them so miserable that the guardsmen resort to desertion rather than real army life.

The Real Companies Irlandesa is in fact a guard made up of Irish Catholic exiles (most of whom were Spanish born by several generations) and hopelessly inadequate for the task. Many desert on the first few nights while Sharpe butts heads with their insufferable commander, a womaniser drunkard who seeks glory by suicide named Lord Kiely. The fears of French spies are made true, as well, by the arrival of Doña Juanita de Elía, who is Kiely’s lover but also in the employ of the French spymaster, Pierre Ducos (Sharpe would meet him later). Sharpe’s attempts to organise the Real Companies Irlandesa prove nightmarish with desertion rife, useless weapons and inept commanders, but he opts to defy Wellington and Hogan and tries to make a unit out of them after all. Things start to improve until an American newspaper surfaces in the camp, proclaiming brutalities committed by British garrison soldiers in Dublin, which threatened to cause a mutiny among the Irish troops until Sharpe dismisses it as folly. Soon after, a Portuguese infantry battalion arrives at the fort and the following night, Loup attacks the fort. The Spanish and British hole up in the barracks, but the Portuguese infantry are butchered. Sharpe fears they are all doomed, but a massive explosion kills dozens of Loup’s attackers and he departs from the fort quickly. Sharpe and Harper discover that Tom Garrard, an old friend of Sharpe’s in Portuguese service, blew up ammunition carts, causing the explosion, and sacrificing himself in the process.

The Spanish demand an inquiry into the assault and Sharpe and Runciman are set up as a political sacrifice. To avoid this fate, Sharpe attacks Loup’s hideout, but Loup’s Battalion is missing because he has been tasked to join Marshal Andre Masséna, on the move to relieve the besieged fortress of Almeida and on a collision course with the Viscount of Wellington. Meanwhile, Lord Kiely has killed himself in disgrace and the true saboteur among the Real Compañía Irlandesa is revealed as Father Sarsfield, a close friend of Wolfe Tone. Sharpe is then set to administrative duties to guard the ammunition carts and is essentially barred from participating in the coming battle, but he still finds himself involved anyway and links up with “Black Bob” Crauford and the Light Division, finding himself at the summit of the battle where he enacts his revenge on Loup while Wellington wins narrowly his battle. With Loup dead and Masséna defeated there is to be no court of inquiry against Sharpe, leaving him exonerated and back in the good graces of Wellington’s army.

I did not mind the television version – which differs in its conclusion after the first attack by Loup – and I did not mind the novel version of Sharpe’s Battle either. However, it is far from the best in the series and I immediately got the impression Cornwell was writing within parameters. I am sure the production company, who made the request for it to be written, had some set ideas of what they wanted Cornwell to write and thus provide them with a basis of the story. Much of the dialogue from the film is taken straight from the novel. It is little wonder it is dedicated to Sean Bean because the dialogue in the novel was written for Sean Bean’s Richard Sharpe, not Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe that appears in the first series. That is often the main criticism levelled at the second series of Sharpe novels, that it is Sean Bean’s Sharpe in written form, and I can see where the character has changed, particularly because this was only written to be made into a movie. Mostly the change is in the dialogue because Sharpe never says “bloody this!” and “bloody that” every few sentences in, for instance, Sharpe’s Eagle, he doesn’t give inspirational speeches, and he is never that cocksure about himself around superiors and blue bloods out of the field. One of Sharpe’s most defining characteristics is his self criticism and immediate demur response to those above him, yet in the novel Sharpe brazenly talks in a way that would probably see him lose his commission in Sharpe’s Eagle. Simply because Sean Bean is allowed to do as such in the films.

As it is, the novel is fine, but it does have a bit of a “well okay” feeling to it at times. In the first half of the novel, before the producers changed the ending, I knew what would happen as I had already seen the film. No matter, I still enjoyed it enough. The action is what one can expect from Cornwell and the bloody and gritty battle of Fuentes de Oñoro makes for a captivating read in its own right, particularly since it is almost wholly told without Sharpe present. However, much of the business with the Real Compañía Irlandesa was often annoying and unnecessary, not to mention implausible – Sharpe even says as much. Just how on earth can an American newspaper be able to report on goings on in Ireland scarcely a month after they had happened and have a printed copy floating among the ranks in Spain? I didn’t get it, and even the most uneducated soldier would have realised it was a forgery. I would be willing to bet money, however, that that was a request from the production team and not something of Bernard Cornwell’s creation as he is far more inventive than that.

I doubt I would ever read Sharpe’s Battle again unless it takes me on a whim. Like I said, it is not a bad novel by any means. It is just a tad on the ho hum side. There were parts I really did enjoy and there were parts that I could have skipped. So should you read it? Well, it depends. If you are working your way through the series, like I am, then I guess it is probably the thing to do. But if you are a casual reader with no interest in reading the lot then don’t bother, Cornwell has written far better books than this one and it would be a shame to spoil your opinion of him.


“Sharpe’s Fury,” by Bernard Cornwell

14 Oct

“Sharpe’s Fury,” by Bernard Cornwell (371p)
Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Barrosa, Winter 1811

The most recent novel in Bernard Cornwell’s acclaimed Sharpe series is Sharpe’s Fury. Written in 2006 this falls eleventh in the chronological order, and tells the story of the Battle of Barrosa in 1811.

Sharpe and his men are detailed to blow up a pontoon bridge just over the border in southern Spain, but their mission goes awry when a French regiment of the line intercepts them, stranding Sharpe and a small number of riflemen on a broken pontoon with his superior officer. Sharpe is infuriated that the colonel of the French regiment, Henri Vandal, broke the agreement they made and kept his prisoners, among them the likeable Lt. Bullen. They eventually make their way to the last remaining Spanish city not in the hands of France: Cádiz. There, Sharpe finds something else to keep him occupied because anti-British conspirators in the city are blackmailing the British ambassador to Spain, who just so happens to be the Duke of Wellington’s youngest brother Henry Wellesley.

Two years prior Henry suffered the indignity of his wife running off with Lord Harry Paget, later Lord Uxbridge of Waterloo fame (whose fictional daughter is the mother of Harry Flashman), and was now a love-stricken divorcée. Henry had written a series of love letters to his new mistress, a high-priced whore named Caterina Blázquez, and those letters had fallen into the hands of a group, led by a manipulative priest named Montseny, wanting to blackmail the British out of Cádiz by publishing them in a newspaper, so Britain must get them back before the true identity of the author is made public.

Sharpe is chosen by the embassy’s official to get them back – Lord Pumphrey is he, the effeminate diplomat that Sharpe met in Copenhagen (Sharpe’s Prey). Working together Sharpe and Pumphrey eventually destroy the newspaper and retrieve most of the letters, thus sparing Henry Wellesley the embarrassment of his private life being made public. The final third of the novel then takes Sharpe and his small number of riflemen – Harper, Hagman, Perkins, Harris and Slattery – to the Battle of Barossa, as Sharpe wants to get revenge on Col. Henri Vandal for taking Bullen prisoner. As Graham’s allied forces battled Marshal Victor’s French side into a relatively pointless yet bloody draw, Sharpe eventually makes his way across the battlefield to meet Vandal, capturing him amidst the scenes of Sgt. Patrick Masterman’s capture of an imperial eagle.

This is one of my least favourite Sharpe novels. I just found it hard to care about Sharpe’s Fury and the whole time I felt as though I would have rather read something else, like I just wanted it to be over so I could tick it off the list. Yes, of course, it has all the usual expectations of any Sharpe novel – the Battle of Barrosa is told excellently, the villains are good, and the intrigue in Cádiz was quite interesting. I liked that part. Henry Wellesley made for an interesting character, so different from his more illustrious brothers, and I was delighted to see Lord Pumphrey return, as it is a great character. But overall I just struggled to care, I found myself having little interest in the novel as a whole, partly because I somewhat knew what the outcome would be. As a big fan of Sharpe and Bernard Cornwell I persevered and eventually finished it, but I shan’t remember much about it after the letters were retrieved, or have any real interest in reading it again.

I wonder if Cornwell himself cared all that much about this one either – it came in between two novels in his current Saxon series, so it is entirely possible he only wrote it to appease Sharpe fans wanting another novel. I find Sharpe’s Fury difficult to recommend for anyone to read. It offers nothing to Sharpe’s overall story due to the constraints of the ten novels that follow it; the author can hardly add a new dimension or part of his story when ten more novels succeed it, so readers won’t miss out on much if they skip it. I guess one thing that was different about Sharpe’s Fury is that a senior officer in Sir Thomas Graham did not come across as a big-headed incompetent idiot, making it a nice change from the usual description of officers in Sharpe novels. If you are interested in reading it then you know what to expect and it is interesting enough for what it is, but for casual fans not interested in reading all twenty-one don’t bother, go and read one of the better ones. You will not miss much.


“Sharpe’s Escape,” by Bernard Cornwell

11 Sep

“Sharpe’s Escape,” by Bernard Cornwell (444p)
Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Bussaco, September 1810

Written in 2004 comes the second-most-recent Sharpe novel, Sharpe’s Escape, which more or less leaves off from where Sharpe’s Gold ends as it takes place shortly after. This is the tenth novel (chronologically) in the Sharpe series and depicts the stunning Battle of Busaco of 1810.

A month after Sharpe’s Gold the British army is encamped in Central Portugal, between Porto and Coimbra and has perched itself on a ridge near the small town of Busscao. Meanwhile, Cap. Richard Sharpe, his captaincy still not officially confirmed by Horse Guards, is out patrolling with the South Essex light company. With him is a new lieutenant, the wonderfully irritating Lt. Cornelius Slingsby whose enthusiasm and zeal annoys Sharpe to no end. In the early stages of the novel Sharpe encounters some Portuguese and a supply of flour at one of the disused telegraph towers. These Portuguese are attempting to sell it to the French, but Sharpe is forced to destroy it under Wellington’s orders that no food be left for the French.

The leader of the Portuguese, a man named Ferragus, fights Sharpe over the flour. They are soon interrupted by the arrival of Maj. Pedro Ferreira, who happens to be Ferragus’ brother, as well as a member of army intelligence. Before the Battle of Bussaco the Ferreira brothers attempt to get revenge on Sharpe by beating him to death, but Sharpe manages to get away as the battle looms.

Battered and bruised, Sharpe’s ally Lt. Col. The Hon. William Lawford seizes the opportunity to advance his relative, Lt. Slingsby, and so relieves Sharpe of his commanding duty during the battle. We then get a different perspective of the usual Cornwell battle scene, as Sharpe is not directly in the battle. He sits on the sidelines and watches from a horse, spending most of the time deriding Slingsby. This change, however, does not take away from the quality of the writing in the battle scene but it is a unique perspective across the Sharpe novels. Cap. Jorge Vicente, from Sharpe’s Havoc, also makes a return during the battle.

Britain and Portugal win the battle, itself quite remarkable as the French actually took the ridge for awhile. It is after the battle – which concludes before the 200pg mark – where the true story of Sharpe’s Escape takes hold in the city of Coimbra. There, the British are destroying the remaining supplies before they retreat back to Lisbon. Also waiting in Coimbra are the Ferreira brothers with their plans to get rich off the French by selling a massive haul of food, but to also take revenge on Richard Sharpe.

Tipped off by one of Ferragus’ men, Sharpe is lulled into a trap at the warehouse. Harper and Vicente are with him, as is Miss Sarah Fry, who was the governess at the Ferreira household. Ferragus conspires to trap Sharpe and kill him, but Sharpe finds a way to escape from his latest near death predicament. He then leads Harper, Vicente, Sarah Fry and a young Portuguese girl named Joana across the Portuguese countryside in chase of the Ferreira brothers, which comes to a stop in a farm house outside the Lines of Torres Vedras. Hemmed inside the farm house is the light company of the South Essex, and Sharpe finally defeats Ferragus there but also leads yet another daring escape out of the farm house and behind the safety of the bastions and forts.

I really warmed to Sharpe’s Escape the further I read. At the start, I was wary as it seemed a tad same-same, but Cornwell really throws up some surprises. For one thing, Sharpe’s relationship with Lawford is really put under the microscope as Lawford represents the bane of Sharpe’s life, army bureaucracy. They argue several times throughout and that is a refreshing change from the amiable niceness. Sharpe is an affront to men of authority in the army and his behaviour throughout the novel really puts a strain to his friendship with Lawford, who is, let us not forget, also Sharpe’s commanding officer as colonel of the South Essex.

This is quite a hidden gem in the Sharpe series. The action is typically top notch but the story itself harks back to the Indian prequels, and I really enjoyed it. A second thing that comes to the fore in Sharpe’s Escape is the development of the Sharpe and Harper friendship, something I think everyone can relate to. However where this novel really succeeds is its telling of Sharpe’s various escapes from his various troubles, and Cornwell does a brilliant job of making you think this really might be it such are the hopelessness of his trials and tribulations.


“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.


“Sharpe’s Eagle,” by Bernard Cornwell

10 Sep

“Sharpe’s Eagle,” by Bernard Cornwell (304p)
Richard Sharpe and the Talavera Campaign, July 1809

The beginning of a great adventure! Sharpe’s Eagle is the first novel my favourite author ever wrote, back in 1981. In his own words he claims to have never re-read it and only remembers that it focuses on the Battle of Talavera in the summer of 1809. Cornwell originally wrote this after he had emigrated to the United States but was unable to work because the government turned down his green card application, so he decided to write a book, a Hornblower of the infantry. This is it – the debut novel of Bernard Cornwell.

Sharpe’s Eagle begins with the arrival of a new regiment to the war, the freshly formed (fictitious) South Essex Regiment of Foot. They are led by the annoyingly brilliant and ebullient Col. Sir Henry Simmerson. Flogged into rigid discipline, the South Essex is a miserable unit who despise their commander. They also have one big problem – they have no real idea to fight. This is where Lt. Richard Sharpe comes in and he has instructed to turn the South Essex into a fighting force worth talking about.

By now, Sharpe’s improper and ungentlemanly behaviour has quickly turned Col. Simmerson into an enemy. Simmerson’s dislike of Sharpe and his ways, as well as his own utter incompetence, sees the colonel commit the ultimate military disgrace at the first engagement with the French in the novel – Simmerson’s inability to make the right decision costs the South Essex its colours. The Kings colours no less!

Simmerson attempts to blame Sharpe for his humiliation but the presence of Maj. Michael Hogan and his truthfulness allows Lord Wellington to find out what really happened. Simmerson is disgraced, and Sharpe is gazetted to a captaincy. But Sharpe knows he cannot keep his captaincy as Simmerson has friends in high places at Horse Guards, and so Sharpe must commit an act of extraordinary if not suicidal bravery at the Battle of Talavera – capturing an eagle touched by Napoleon’s own hand.

Sharpe’s Eagle is a simple story. It tells us what we can expect in future editions – most of the time Sharpe is with the army, and his enemies will come from that same army. It also properly introduces readers to Cornwell’s style of fast pace, high intensity action that never stops for a second. But the plot of the novel is believable and immensely enjoyable, as are the characters. Putting it into context Cornwell does a great job of introducing Sharpe and Harper as well as his take on Wellington.

This is a wonderful novel and a top notch debut. It’s raw and not without its faults – the romance with Josefina is a little out of place – but it is also his first novel. However, one thing has stayed the same. Cornwell’s ability to write a multi-chapter battle scene is as good now as it was in 1981. I highly recommend this book.


“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?