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Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell

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Alaric
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Postby Alaric » Wed September 10th, 2008, 1:54 pm

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“Sharpe’s Eagle,” by Bernard Cornwell
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.

Recommendation: Very good. ****1/2 or 9/10.

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whitelady3
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Postby whitelady3 » Wed September 10th, 2008, 8:33 pm

"Alaric" wrote:“Sharpe’s Eagle,” by Bernard Cornwell
Richard Sharpe and the Talavera Campaign, July 1809

This is my favourite book of the Sharpe series until now, I'm currently listening to Sharpe's Company.

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Alaric
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Postby Alaric » Thu September 11th, 2008, 11:27 am

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“Sharpe’s Gold,” by Bernard Cornwell
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.

Recommendation: Average. **1/2 or 5/10.

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Alaric
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Postby Alaric » Thu September 11th, 2008, 12:15 pm

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“Sharpe’s Escape,” by Bernard Cornwell
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.

Recommendation: Good. ***1/2 or 7/10.

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Alaric
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Postby Alaric » Mon October 13th, 2008, 2:48 pm

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“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.

Recommendation: Okay. *** or 6/10.

Carla
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Postby Carla » Tue October 21st, 2008, 5:18 pm

Alaric;7813I guess one thing that was different about [i wrote:Sharpe’s Fury[/i] 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.


Yes that does make a nice change :-)
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009
Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords
Website: http://www.carlanayland.org
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Leyland
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Postby Leyland » Mon November 3rd, 2008, 6:55 pm

I scooped up the only four Sharpe's on the shelf at a used bookstore a couple weekends ago. I'm a complete newcomer to Cornwell ( :o ) so I'll be reading your reviews much more closely when I start reading them .... someday. Mt. TBR is teetering dangerously of late.

Thanks so much for all the info, Alaric.

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Alaric
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Postby Alaric » Tue November 4th, 2008, 9:52 am

No problem. :)

Carla
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Postby Carla » Wed November 5th, 2008, 3:50 pm

Did anyone see the first instalment of the latest Sharpe TV movie, Sharpe's Peril? Set in India and very - very - loosely based on some combination of Cornwell's Indian Sharpe novels. If so, what did you think of it?
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria

Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009

Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords

Website: http://www.carlanayland.org

Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

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Alaric
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Postby Alaric » Thu November 6th, 2008, 6:39 am

I haven't seen it as it won't get broadcast here, but I may buy it on DVD in about a year. There's been a bit of mixed bag with the ones not based on novels, as Gold was awful but from the original series I quite enjoyed Justice and especially Mission.


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