Category: Richard Sharpe Series

“Sharpe’s Regiment” by Bernard Cornwell Review

Sharpe's Regiment

Sharpe’s Regiment

Author:  Bernard Cornwell

Released:  1986

Sharpe’s Regiment could be subtitled Sharpe versus the London Bureaucracy. Most Sharpe books follow a familiar formula, where Sharpe must overcome a plot by the French or French supporters that will involve a battle or two. Along the way Sharpe will best a superior officer who underestimates him because he’s not a gentlemen and have sex with a woman that all the other officers lust after and would otherwise seem out of Sharpe’s social strata. Up until this point, the most that formula has diverged has been in Sharpe’s Trafalgar (where the action took place via a naval battle), and Sharpe’s Prey (which featured Sharpe operating as an intelligence officer in Denmark). In Sharpe’s Regimentthere are echoes of the familiar tropes, but for most of the book it is a very nice departure from the standard Sharpe setting that still feels true to the characters.

After Wellington’s successful campaign in Spain, the French forces have been driven out of the country and it appears there will be some downtime in the action. With no need for Richard Sharpe’s expertise on the battlefield, Sharpe is dispatched back to England to find the missing reinforcements owed to the South Essex. From my memory, this is only the third return to his homeland through 17 books in the series (once to get married, another trip was to his old boy’s home that he grew up in), but those were both minor scenes in their respective stories. Aside from a prologue and epilogue, the rest of the story is spent in England in a very different setting than the usual battlefield. Sharpe gets to have dinner with a prince, be honored at a theater, and receive countless other accolades as a hero returning to his native land.

The tension in the book comes from the question of where the South Essex reinforcements are located? According to some in the military, they are merely a “paper army,” existing only as a theoretical allotment in bookkeeping. Sharpe doesn’t buy it, and to investigate he, Harper and one other officer go and enlist under fake names and see where the trail leads. The cast of characters in this book is mostly new faces, with several inexperienced recruits falling into fun archetypes (the educated one, the one with the dog, the complainer, etc.) and evil officers in the British ranks.

Some of the best moments in the book come from the unique position of Sharpe and Harper needing to be deserters, or needing to shoot back in a situation where they don’t want to kill British soldiers. It’s easy to predict the comeuppance that will occur once their true identities are revealed but it doesn’t diminish the fun of seeing Sharpe and Harper gloat over those that wronged them. Less successful are Sharpe’s romantic exploits, which include a woman seemingly created solely to facilitate the drama, and the return of one of Sharpe’s dream girls (Jane) who was not particularly memorable in her first appearance. Cornwell struggles to make her interesting, even writing how Sharpe senses the repartee that will be forthcoming between Jane and Harper, while not delivering any actual memorable moments. Also, it feels as though Cornwell felt obligated to deliver one large battle which seemed out of place with the rest of story. Overall though, this was not only the most unique book in the series thus far, but a fun adventure that felt true to the characters.

4-star

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“Sharpe’s Honor” by Bernard Cornwell Review

Sharpe's Honor

Sharpe’s Honor: Book Sixteen of the Richard Sharpe Series

Richard Sharpe and the Vitoria Campaign, February to June 1813

Author:  Bernard Cornwell

Published:  1985

Coming off my favorite installment to date in the excellent Sharpe’s Enemy, any book that followed was bound to feel like a let down. That was certainly the case with Sharpe’s Honor, the sixteenth chronological book in the Richard Sharpe series, but overall this was still a book I enjoyed. I think the worst aspects of this book came from a new theory I have that Bernard Cornwell comes up with clever words to attach to Sharpe’s name for book titles, and then writes the book trying to shoehorn as many allusions to that word as possible throughout the book.

Taking place in the closing months of the Spanish conflict between Britain and France during the Napoleonic Wars, Major Richard Sharpe is the target of a plot by the French intelligence officer Pierre Ducos. The Whore of Gold, Richard’s object of lust from prior books, Helene is the mechanism for the plot who sets everything in motion by sending a letter to her husband accusing Sharpe of making a drunken attempt at raping her. Helene’s husband then challenges Richard Sharpe’s, ahem, honor by challenging Sharpe to a duel. When Helene’s husband ends up dying, Sharpe ends up exiled on a secret mission that involves deadly Spanish partisans, breaking into a nunnery, prison escapes and wagons full of riches beyond imagination.

With any book series that are this lengthy, I appreciate when there is a deviation from one book to another that is memorable or changes the series. While Sharpe’s Honor lacks the major character deaths or military promotions of other books, it does affect the overall series in three manners. **Slight Spoilers Follow** First, Patrick Harper ends up married and has a baby on the way. Unlike Sharpe’s earlier marriage, it seems at least possible that these characters will travel with the army beyond this book. Second, Sharpe loses his longest tenured possession, one that connects him to the most powerful man in his world, but gets it replaced with something much more extravagant. **End of Spoilers** Finally and most importantly, this book ends the Spanish conflict and it looks like French soil is on the horizon. The Sharpe books thus far have spent extensive time in India, before hopping around to places like Denmark and Portugal, but it feels like we’ve been in Spain the longest and the change of scenery should help add some excitement in the next chapter.

The best scene in this book is probably Sharpe’s excursion into a Spanish nunnery. While the prison scene featured some of the most violent and destructive descriptions to be found in a Sharpe book, the mysterious solution provided for Sharpe felt far too convenient in the timing of and execution of it all to really register as believable. The nunnery relied instead on a quick decision by Sharpe to shift the blame away from himself that was both very funny and very clever. Since Sharpe is basically a superhero at this point, anything that shifts the story away from him outfighting his opponent stands out by comparison.

Besides the less than thrilling prison escape (which again, was preceded by an amazingly brutal action sequence), this book also loses some points by relying on three villains that all pale when compared to either of the two villains from the previous book. Pierre Ducos seems to be Sharpe’s long term villain at this point, which is unfortunate as the best Sharpe villains have been those that try to best him at his own game on the battlefield. Ducos is closer to Father Hacha (the Inquisitor) and El Matarife (the sadist Spanish partisan), the villains that Sharpe must overcome in this book, as all three have no real loyalty or qualms about killing innocents to stop Sharpe. While I’m still loving this series, and even enjoyed Sharpe’s Honor, I’ve got it ranked as the 9th best in the first 17, which puts it in the bottom half in terms of quality

4-star

“Sharpe’s Enemy” by Bernard Cornwell Review

Sharpe's_Enemy

Sharpe’s Enemy

Author:  Bernard Cornwell

Release Date: January 1984

Sharpe’s Enemy is the best book yet in the Sharpe series, and considering there have been some excellent earlier stories that’s high praise. Taking place over Christmas of 1812, there are so many memorable elements of this book that it really stands out in the series. **Minor plot spoilers sprinkled throughout, but nothing that will ruin the ending**

For starters Sharpe receives a major promotion early in this book to the rank of Major. The role allows him to command his first full scale battle against a battalion by the end the book, and also have his own Captains that work under him. This also expands the cast in a major way with a few officers that I expect will be recurring, most memorably Sweet William the one eyed Captain who takes out his teeth and removes his eye patch before battle. The other major addition is a rocket troop. Part of Sharpe’s responsibilities include the task of testing the rockets and seeing if they are fit for use in battle. The use of the rockets provide two of the most memorable scenes in the book.

The Enemy in the title of the book refers to a certain evildoer from earlier novels, but what makes this installment of the series stand out even more is the presence of numerous individuals that could be called Sharpe’s enemy. Sharpe is tasked with rescuing hostages from a ragtag group of soldiers deserted from French, Spanish, English and Portugese armies. Along the way Sharpe is forced into confrontations of various levels against a superior officer (Lord Farthingdale), a French commander (Colonel Dubreton), a French intelligence officer (Ducos), and of course the evil individual from Sharpe’s past. Although most of the confrontation is with that last individual, my favorite parts of this book all involved Colonel Dubreton. Unlike most villains in the series, Dubreton is a respectable French officer who admires Sharpe and seeks to best him on a battlefield under the rules of conduct. I am hopeful he reappears in later installments.

Sharpe’s love life also is front in center in Sharpe’s Enemy, as both his wife Teresa as well as former lover Josephina are present. In addition to the major promotion, growth in the cast of the book and interesting plot, Sharpe’s Enemy also features the death of two major characters in very dramatic fashion that will certainly have repercussions on Sharpe in the future. For as much as I enjoyed this book however, I would probably not recommend it as a good starting point in the series as part of what made it work so well was how it took storylines from earlier books and concluded them in a satisfying manner.

As with most Sharpe novels there is an historical note at the end of the book that discusses the accuracy of the events described. As usual this was one of the best parts of the book as it told of an actual group of deserters let by a former French army cook. The reveal for what actually happened to that group in real life was a funny moment of creative liberty taken by Cornwell.

5-star

“Sharpe’s Skirmish: Richard Sharpe and the Defense of the Tormes, August 1812” (Sharpe, #14.5) by Bernard Cornwell Review

sharpe's skirmish

Sharpe’s Skirmish: Richard Sharpe and the Defense of the Tormes, August 1812

Author:  Bernard Cornwell

Release Date: 1999

No matter how thrilling a Richard Sharpe adventure is, without a note regarding the historical accuracy of the events described at the conclusion it’s a bit of a letdown. Fourteen books into the series, with several more to go, it’s clear that Sharpe is going to survive each adventure and find a way to single handed turn the tides for the British in battle. What keeps these stories from being repetitive is plugging that formula into different historical events and making a cool hybrid of education and entertainment. That’s all a roundabout way of saying that while this short story was very exciting and entertaining it lacked the gravity of a more historical entry in the series.

Taking place almost immediately following the events of “Sharpe’s Sword,” here Richard is in charge of a Spanish fort on a crucial supply chain while the French in the area are all assumed to be retreating. He is there because he was shot in the previous book and is recovering in what is assumed to be a low stakes, hard to screw up position. Unbeknownst to British however, there is actually a sizable French force in the area with their sights set on this fort. Something happens that makes Sharpe suspect that he will be attacked, which becomes the dilemma of whether he should request more troops to be safe and possibly look paranoid or not request troops and possibly be undermanned during an attack. As an officer elevated through the ranks Sharpe must always be right or risk losing all he has gained thus far.

In addition to Richard Sharpe, long time readers will be pleased by the involvement of Sgt. Harper and Teresa in this book, as both play pivotal roles in the mission. There is also a soldier who remembers Sharpe from Gawilghur (which was detailed in “Sharpe’s Fortress”), so those following along chronologically get some nice literary Easter eggs. The two best parts of this story both involve horses. First, Cornwell does an excellent job describing the condition of the French army and their animals, all of whom have been retreating for miles and are in poor shape for battle. These sorts of details are where Cornwell really shines, bringing realism to stories that could so easily devolve into mindless action. **Slight spoiler for the ending** The climax also involves the horses, and several hundred bottles of wine that were not disposed of properly. Although with so few pages to plant seeds for plot twists, “Sharpe’s Skirmish” ends with a clever means for the British to thwart the charging enemy.

4-star

 

“Sharpe’s Sword” (Sharpe #14) by Bernard Cornwell Review

sharpes-sword

Sharpe’s Sword

Author: Bernard Cornwell

Release Date: April 1995

“Sharpe’s Sword” is the 14th book in the Sharpe series, and just knowing the title of the book, somebody who has read the first thirteen books can probably accurately predict the plot of the book. Specifically, it will be about Sharpe gaining a sword from an enemy that he will undoubtedly carry in future books (much like his looking glass from Arthur Wellesley). The enemy will probably be a French officer that makes examples of civilians by committing atrocities. Sharpe will be tasked with defeating that officer, and along the way he’ll meet a beautiful woman that will fall for Sharpe despite him being a common man.

What’s amazing about this installment is that while each of those things happen they’re subverted just enough from the normal that the plot feels fresh and ends up being one of the best examples of the Sharpe series start to finish. **Spoiler alert** The middle portion of this book features Sharpe being wounded worse than in any book so far, and his recovery was as suspenseful as possible for a character that is destined to appear in another dozen books. Sergeant Harper even gets his own subplot that is straight out of an Ayn Rand novel, and I eat that stuff up in literature (there’s a reason “Faith of the Fallen” is my favorite Terry Goodkind novel). The twist involving the sword at the end was a great sentimental ending, although it was also a bit like the end of Titanic in that the final throw is a major waste.

Some of the best Sharpe novels are the ones that involve spies and this book is no exception. There were only a few supporting characters in the book that were possibilities for being the spy or the traitor, but each of them were interesting characters in their own right. Captain Jack Spears in particular was a great character with multiple dimensions that constantly kept the reader guessing.

5-star

“Sharpe’s Company” (Sharpe #13) by Bernard Cornwell Review

sharpes-company

Sharpe’s Company

Author: Bernard Cornwell

Release Date: May 1982

In Richard Sharpe’s 13th adventure, plenty of characters return from earlier in the series and plenty of changes abound, but by the end of the novel we’re almost back to the status quo. Almost.

The most memorable villain in the entire series, a certain evil Sergeant, finely walks the line between driving the reader crazy and advancing the plot into nerve-wracking confrontations. Bernard Cornwell wisely decided to give some backstory to this character this time around in a few flashbacks, elaborating on what we already know about the man who can’t be killed.

Richard Sharpe’s lady dilemmas are also at their most interesting since Sharpe’s Trafalgar, and Sgt. Harper also has his largest character arc in a novel since he was first introduced. As usual, General Wellesley is the stoic, charismatic leader that steals all the scenes he is in and the book ends with another great historical note about the actual battle and Siege of Badajoz. Each book I look forward to this final section to hear about the actual battles and how closely Cornwell stays to history. I look forward to seeing what happens to the entire (surviving) crew in the next novel.

5-star

“Sharpe’s Battle” (Sharpe #12) by Bernard Cornwell Review

sharpes-battle

Sharpe’s Battle

Author: Bernard Cornwell

Release Date: May 1995

Twelve books in and the Sharpe formula can get stale. Not the case in this book however, which featured interesting subplots involving Irish revolt, a ruthless opposing soldier, and Sharpe’s orders to get Spanish soldiers to go awol. This also featured an epic fight at the end and a very interesting historical note. One of my favorites in the series.

5-star