Author: Bernard Cornwell
After 21 books and three short stories, I have finished the Richard Sharpe series. The conclusion to this lengthy run of books brings back Sharpe and Harper five years after the previous story and six or seven years after Waterloo. The two men have settled into retirement life, with Sharpe thinning out and Harper fattening up. Both are married with children by this point. Harper is living in Dublin running a tavern and Sharpe is a farmer in Normandy. When a character from Sharpe’s Rifles comes to Sharpe asking her to find her husband in Chile, the two reunite to sail across the ocean and investigate the man’s disappearance.
The plot of Sharpe’s Devil is similar to Sharpe’s Trafalgar, where Sharpe meets major historical characters and is thrown out of his element into a naval battle. One of my only problems with Sharpe’s Devil however was that it did directly contradict Trafalgar, at times talking about how Sharpe had not been in a naval battle before and ignoring how Sharpe had indeed met Admiral Nelson during one conversation. In this book, Sharpe meets Napoleon for the first time, as well as Lord Cochrane (a guy I will probably end up reading more about). Instead of Europe or India, the battles are fought in the Atlantic Ocean or in Chilean forts.
The presence of Cochrane changes the dynamic of battles in Sharpe’s Devil; while Richard would certainly resort to tricks to turn battles in other books, Cochrane is a downright cheater when it comes to fighting. Every fight included some sort of ruse, from disguises to false flags or surprise reinforcements. The historical note at the end didn’t provide definite numbers for battles as many of the Napoleonic fights did, but with Sharpe and Cochrane’s men outnumbered 300 to a few thousand history or Cornwell had to rely on tricks to even the odds.
As a conclusion to this series, I enjoyed the book but with a few reservations. The fun of seeing Harper and Sharpe in their later years was a lot of fun. Anytime continuity doesn’t line up in a book series it takes me out of the story however, and that certainly happened here. The presence of the Napoleon storyline felt a bit like fan service, but it was also cool to see Sharpe interact with the mystical figure that had caused so many of the major events of his era. I wish there had been more story with Sharpe at home, interacting with his family, as the closes we get to that as readers is the short story Sharpe’s Ransom, and that doesn’t provide much either. I’d recommend reading the series as a whole though, as Cornwell maintained an excellent quality of storytelling throughout. The books are full of adventure and actual battle histories, with author’s notes as interesting the story’s themselves.