Bernard Cornwell


"Sharpe's Escape: Portugal 1810"

(reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUN 01, 2004)

Sharpe’s Escape takes us to the Bussaco Campaign of September and October 1810, and is the sequel to Sharpe’s Havoc.

Richard Sharpe thought his worst problem was sharing his regiment, the south Essex, with Captain Slingsby. Colonel Lawford, usually one of Sharpe’s staunchest allies, has promised his wife that he would help his brother-in-law get on in the army...and so that means sometimes he assigns things to Slingsby to help him become a better officer and he expects Sharpe to help. Sharpe rightly is a little jealous of his command; unlike most officers, he’s had to earn his by shedding his own blood.

But as I imply, Slingsby is far from his worst problem. Two Portuguese brothers, one a major with the army, one a profiteer, have a plan to sell food to the beleaguered French forces, thereby making a huge profit. See, Wellington’s big strategy in defending Spain is two fold...one, create a huge barrier across the lands so that the French will come up against it and be stopped; two, raze the lands down to the last egg, the last kernel of corn, the last wild rabbit, so that they can find nothing to fill their stomachs with. It is a cruel tactic, one that drives people from their homes and threatens to kill the citizens as well as the soliders, but Sharpe has his orders. He destroys the food the two men are about to sell, thereby making a vicious enemy out of Ferragus, the privateer who will now do anything to kill Sharpe.

When Sharpe and Harper end up getting cut off from the South Essex, they realize their only hope is to beat Ferragus and his brother back to the lines so that they can tell their side of things. With Vincente, who readers may remember from Sharpe’s Havoc, Sarah, a governess that Ferragus was going to ill-use, and Joana, a tough little Portuguese who is more than grateful to Harper for saving her from the French, they take off cross country in a race to capture the two brothers before the French catch up with them all.

There were a lot of highlights to this book for me...sometimes I’m a little eh-ish on the women Sharpe hangs out with (I like Teresa and Lucille both quite a bit, and knowing the conclusions of both of those relationships sometimes makes the relationships he has with other women feel...transitory) but I genuinely liked Sarah, who starts out as super stuffy, then becomes this plucky person who embraces the situation and shows tremendous strength. Joana is also very cool...she’s tough and very brave. I also liked seeing Vincente again, since I grew to like him in the last book. But most off all, I really enjoyed the resourcefulness Sharpe and Harper showed in their travels to get back to their unit.

As always, Cornwell’s narrative is filled with intense amounts of realism. Things that stick out are details such as a drummer boy forcing himself to sit up and continue drumming even though he’s dying...and how the men, passing him, pat him on the head for luck. Things like that are stark reminders of the horrors of war, and they stick out so much because there is a sort of terrible beauty and sorrow to them, and they feel very real.

This latest volume in the series is a brilliant and enjoyable edition.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Sharpe's Escape at HarperCollins.com

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"Sharpe's Havoc: Northern Portugal, Spring 1809"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer OCT 05, 2003)

"The folk fleeing the city were being headed off and some were climbing to the big white building while others, in despair, were going back to their houses. The cannon were fighting their own battle above the river, the French guns trying to match the bombardment from the big Portuguese battery which started dozens of fires in the fallen city as the round shot smashed ovens, hearths and forges. The dark smoke of the burning buildings mingled with the gray-white smoke of the guns and beneath that smoke, in the valley of drowning children, Richard Sharpe was trapped."

Lieutenant Richard Sharpe's orders are simple: to go and retrieve the runaway Miss Kate Savage from Vila Real de Zedes. He is, according to his commanding officer Hogan, not to fall in love with her, get her pregnant or give her the spanking that she richly deserves for running off during the evacuation of the city. Sharpe soon finds himself and his regiment of rifles out of a job... Colonel Christopher, who is also going after Miss Kate, tells them that he doesn't need them, and gives them new orders. So, unable to do anything else, they try to rejoin Captain Hogan. The invading French cut them off, leaving them to fight their way through with an attachment of Portuguese solders. the journey to find the nearest river crossing takes them to Vila Real de Zedes after all...and of course, Christopher is less than thrilled. This is because not only is he claiming to have married the girl (something that only he and the priest know is not true) but he has a plan...a shady plan that he claims will win the war...but for which side, it is impossible to guess. Christopher thinks he's far cleverer than Sharpe...something he's about to learn is totally not true.

The first thing, at least the thing that excited me the most, is that this book is nestled in between Sharpe's Rifles and Sharpe's Eagle...yes, that's right, we have the gang once more. Harper, Hagman, Harriss, Cooper and Tounge all take major parts in the adventure. For those who missed the camaraderie of this group, reading this book is a welcome reward...I had no idea how much I missed them until I settled down to read. There is something about this group dynamic that is incredible...Sharpe has to continually tread the line between openly joining his men in friendship and being the leader. Because he has to be the leader...and is ambitious enough to not want to give it up...he often has to make very hard decisions. Because he is, for much of the book, the officer in charge, he is also able to relax a little, and this creates a few memorable and comfortable scenes between him and his riflemen.

There is also a lot of adventure. Because he is cut off from everything, his only source of communication is from the probably treacherous Christopher. This adds a little undercurrent of worry, even as Sharpe's valiant attempts to rejoin the army and keep his men alive. You don't have any real rests between battles, because in the back ground the battles to do this are constantly moving forward. Christopher puts the men in several untenable positions, but Sharpe, through his luck and common sense manages to bring everyone through them. Which is why, I think, Sharpe is so darned attractive...he is the underdog, but he always manages to triumph with his honor intact, which gives the reader a sense of hope.

Lushly described settings and battles transport us back once more into Sharpe's time...a journey that I always love to take, and hope to take again.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 13 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Sharpe's Havoc at HarperCollins.com

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"Sharpe's Prey: Denmark 1807"

(reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUN 10, 2002)

Sharpe's Prey at amazon.com

I'll admit, I started reading this series for all the wrong reasons. I caught the movie version of Sharpe's Enemy on PBS, saw the camaraderie between Richard Sharpe and his men, saw how amazing Sean Bean was in the part, and fell hook and line for it. When I discovered that the movies (most of the books have been made into movies by the BBC) were based on books, I began tracking them down. Something you might need to know --- Cornwell began this series with Richard Sharpe as a solider under Wellington during the war with Napoleon. Once he'd gotten to a point past that, he decided to begin with Sharpe in India. Thus, while this is the 18th book in the series, it's the fifth, chronologically.

Richard Sharpe is a solider, rogue, a Quioxte-esq romantic, and a killer. An orphan raised in the cruel streets of Wapping (a part of London) he has learned to survive how he can. Even as an adult several years later, he doesn't always have the luxury of morals. The Richard we meet in this book has risen through the ranks to the rank of Lieutenant, an admirable and rare feat helped along by his bravery in saving the life of Wellington. His beloved has recently died, taking with her his meager riches, his house, and any contentment he managed to gain for himself. He is a creature stuck between worlds - too refined for the gutter he came from, unacceptable to the upper-class, pushed from being a valuable solider (what he's best at) to being a quartermaster, Sharpe feels himself at loose ends and wants to begin again. Unfortunately with no money and no place in a caste-conscious society, such things are quite impossible.

One evening, a Major General Baird runs into Sharpe, and offers him a job - to guard an Aide to the Duke of York and a chestful of gold on their way to Denmark. Denmark has ships, a beautiful fleet that Napoleon is determined to take for himself if the British don't beat him to it. The chest of gold is a bribe for the Crown Prince, in the hope that the matter can be settled without war. Fresh from an act of desperation and revenge, Sharpe readily agrees. Unfortunately, the Aide, Lavisser, isn't exactly what he seems and Sharpe is pulled into a web of deceit and murder.

This book has all of the things I love about this series and more. Sometimes I wonder if Cornwell doesn't have a time machine that he sneaks out and uses, for the details are always rich and bright. The politicking and back biting that happens among the officers, and the rough and often desperate actions of the ranks beneath them make each character feel like actual people from the past. Sharpe is not always a sympathetic character, but he is exactly the man of the time that he would have been, were he a real historic figure. He is heroic, unabashedly romantic, passionate, courageous and very likable. The battles and historical detail are amazingly well written, without being over bearing. The villains are infinitely dislikable, making it easier for you to side with the British, whose own action in this novel are not always pristine. I do not often read historical adventures, but all of these elements added together make for a story that I find captivating and enjoyable.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 21 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Sharpe's Prey at HarperCollins.com



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Saxon Tales:

The Richard Sharpe series:

Sharpe's Short Stories:

The Nathaniel Starbuck Chronicles:

The Warlord Chronicles (Novels of Author):

The Grail Quest:

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

Bernard CornwellBernard Cornwell is the author of the beloved multivolume series chronicling Richard Sharpe's heroic climb through the ranks of the British Army, which moves from India (Sharpe's Tiger, 1799; Sharpe's Triumph, 1803; and Sharpe's Fortress, 1803), to Europe for the Napoleonic Wars (including Sharpe's Trafalgar, 1805, and Sharpe's Battle, 1811), and finally, to the battlefields of Chile (Sharpe's Devil, 1820). Cornwell is also the author of Stonehenge: 2000 B.C.—A Novel; The Nathaniel Starbuck Chronicles; and The Warlord Chronicles.

He lives with his wife on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

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