Category: Richard Sharpe Series

“Sharpe’s Revenge” by Bernard Cornwell Review

sharpe's revenge

Sharpe’s Revenge

Author:  Bernard Cornwell

Released:  1989

Sharpe’s Revenge was an average (for Sharpe, meaning pleasant and enjoyable) story for most of its length but took a surprisingly sad turn at the end that felt very true to the series and rescued it from becoming one of the more forgettable Sharpe adventures. The biggest hindrance to my enjoyment of this book was its similarity to the plot of Sharpe’s Honor, beginning with a duel and proceeding through a false imprisonment which Sharpe must go rogue to clear his name. Unlike that book, here Sharpe had Patrick Harper and Sweet William Frederickson to keep him company and assist him throughout.

**Plot spoilers for the first quarter of the book**

The Peninsula War against Napoleon ends abruptly near the beginning of this book, leaving Sharpe, Harper and Frederickson to discuss how they want their post-war lives to play out. Shall they stay in the military? Retire? What of their wives and friendships? Before anything can be resolved, Sharpe and Frederickson and framed by his longtime enemy Pierre Ducos, he of the French intelligence. After the court-martial, Sharpe and Frederickson escape to clear their name, by tracking down the one Frenchman who can clear it. Upon their arrival, the man has been murdered and the two of them are framed for it. Harper of course tags along with the adventure, even though he has nothing to gain and everything to lose doing so.

Meanwhile, Sharpe also becomes paranoid that his wife Jane is taking advantage of him. When her letters become infrequent, he also notices she has withdrawn all his money from the bank with no explanation. Cornwell has a dual plotline with Jane explaining what takes place, and also introduces the French widow Lucille Castineau who has a significant impact on at least one of the English heroes.

**End of Spoilers**

More than any other book in the series, this book spotlights Sweet William Frederickson. Prior to this, he had been a bit of a cliche character; much like Dan Hagman (the old sharpshooter rifleman), William seemed to be present so that once a book Cornwell could write something about how William removed his eyepatch and false teeth to scare the enemies prior to going into battle. Make no mistake, we still get that in this book (twice by my count), but Cornwell also tells us much more about what sort of a man he is and where he is most vulnerable.

A few of the other characters in this book also do things that could substantially change our view of them. Sharpe himself acts all too true to his biggest weakness, but Jane also will likely surprise readers who have been following her since her first appearance. As far as villains go, I’ve never been a huge fan of Pierre Ducos whose created all of his own problems by continuing to go after Sharpe and never being successful. He’ll always be a distant second to Obadiah Hakeswill, the worst of the worst Sharpe villains. There is another French general (Calvert) who was everything I like in an opposing officer. Instead of being evil, he is competent, zealous, and an even match for Sharpe.

There are only two Sharpe novels and a short story left, and the end of this book already feels like it could be a goodbye to several beloved characters. While there’s no Duke of Wellington, Greencoats at war or new gear/rank added to Sharpe’s repertoire, two major relationships for Sharpe are possibly ended and our characters will be starting out in fresh territory for the first time since they got out of Portugal/Spain. I’m as excited as ever to keep reading this series, but now that the end is in sight I’m also getting pretty sad about the thought of being finished with these adventures.

4-star

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“Shape’s Siege” by Bernard Cornwell Review

Sharpe's Siege

Sharpe’s Siege

Author:  Bernard Cornwell

Published:  1987

Sharpe’s Siege picks up with the English army working their way into France, Sharpe happily married to Jane and Harper the proud father of a two month old. Sharpe’s soldierly duties always come first however, and here he is drafted into helping the Royal Navy on a mission to possibly assist in Bordeaux turning against the French Empire in a stroke that could end the Napoleonic War. Anyone who knows Sharpe (or European history) will know this doesn’t happen, and instead Sharpe will end up being caught in a trap left by the French intelligence officer Ducot, who is making yet another appearance, rivaling Obadiah Hakeswill’s run as a villain.

The title of the book gives away that there will be a siege, though Cornwell pulls out all the stops in making it more intense and creative than similar battles in earlier books. **Spoilers follow** For starters, Sharpe, Harper and Sweet William Frederickson are all on the inside the the structure under siege, and they are vastly outnumbered and outgunned. The limited bullets in particular is unusual in this series, and the tricks that Sharpe and friends pull to even the odds were more similar to those found in the various Sharpe short stories that I’ve reviewed on here.

While Sharpe is worrying about the enemy, he is equally distracted by the possibility of losing his wife Jane to fever, as she has come down with symptoms immediately before he was deployed. Also sick is Major Michael Hogan, who is (along with Harper) as long tenured as an ally to Sharpe as we’ve seen in the series. This installment also introduces the character of Cornelius Killick, an American naval officer or pirate, depending on the moment. Killick provides for many of the surprises in this novel, as both Sharpe and the French are at times forced to depend on him or go after him.

4-star

“Sharpe’s Christmas” by Bernard Cornwell Review

Sharpe's Christmas

Sharpe’s Christmas

Author:  Bernard Cornwell

Published:  1994

Sharpe’s Christmas is a short story that takes place afterSharpe’s Regiment, where the British infantry is entrenched in France after years of fighting in Spain and Portugal. Coming up on Christmas day, Sharpe is tasked with preventing French forces from traveling through a stretch of road, which of course ends up bringing two forces on either side of Sharpe, with neither knowing how many troops he has.

Much like in Sharpe’s Skirmish, here Sharpe utilizes a clever booby trap to gain the upper hand replacing the more extensive military maneuvering found in the full length novels. With a shortened page count, Sharpe’s romantic exploits are noticeably absent. As Cornwell has recently written the prequel India novels prior to writing this story, he decides to bring back the French Colonel that Sharpe got along well with in India for this story. The reintroduction of the character was fine, and it lent itself well to maneuvering a circumstance where Sharpe would show some Christmas spirit during war time, but the method by which the reader was reintroduced to the character (both Sharpe and the Colonel reminisce about each other for the first time in years prior to running into each other) was very clunky.

Beyond that there wasn’t anything too necessary to the greater Sharpe mythos here. Sharpe had an opportunity to capture a second French Eagle, his Ensigns continue their reign as the Spinal Tap drummer or Star Trek redshirts of the crew, and the rifle regiment is able to intimidate the smooth bore French musketeers superior numbers and will survive to march again.

3-star

“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

“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