This is the eighth of a total of twenty one of author Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series following the exploits of his fictional creation, Richard Sharpe, from his days spent in India in 1799 through 1821 when he actually meets Napoleon. The TV series staring acclaimed actor Sean Bean as Sharpe begins with the adaption of this novel.
There were a total of 14 episodes produced between 1993 and 1997. Two more were released in 2006 and 2008. Most of the episodes are available for viewing on Netflix or for purchase from Amazon or other retailers. I’ve discovered that our library has most of the books in the series as well as many of the videos. I have found it especially enjoyable to first read the book and subsequently watch the video. Both are very entertaining and I can’t imagine a better way to get immersed in the history of the Napoleonic wars.
Bernard Cornwell, certainly one of the leading masters of historical fiction, introduces Patrick Harper, one of the main characters to accompany Sharpe on his many subsequent adventures in this novel. The relationship didn’t start out very well as Harper was chosen by the other men in the regiment to eliminate Sharpe who certainly did not make a good first impression with the men as he found himself the ranking officer after a bloody battle. Sharpe is an interesting character and although he is the quintessential hero of the novel he has his share of faults.
The adventure takes place in Galacia, one of the most affected areas of the Peninsular War. History shows that the French held control for only about 6 months thanks to the British Army and the emergence of local rebellions against the occupiers. Lieutenant Sharpes’s 95thRifles of the South Essex Regiment was a fragment of a broken army that remained in Spain as the French took control. An uneasy alliance with Blas Vivar, a Spanish nobleman, sends Sharpe and his men on a rough and tumble adventure against overwhelming odds through enemy invested mountains. Vivar believes that he has a secret weapon in a mysterious strong box that will lead his country to eventual victory against the occupiers. The ongoing interaction between the soldier Sharpe and the aristocrat Vivar is a fascinating part of the novel.
Sharpe’s men were actually referred to as the “Rifles” and the infantry brigade was distinguished by the use of distinctive green uniforms in place of the traditional red. Armed with the Baker rifle the men had the advantage of more accuracy and range relative to the standard issue Brown Bess musket used by regular light infantry companies.
I highly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys reading historical fiction wrapped in a nice adventure story with enough plot twists and turns to keep you reading through the night. There is gory violence during fighting that some may object to but Cornwell tries to be as realistic as possible without glorifying war. Once you’ve read the book you can rest your eyes and treat yourself to the screen version. I’m confident you will find both highly enjoyable.