It’s time for a Sharpe book! This was my first of the year but it’s sure not to be my last.
After reading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series and C.S. Forrester’s Horatio Hornblower books, I found that the Age of Sail Genre dropped off steeply in quality but the genre remained a guilty pleasure for me. I’ve read a few books by Alexander Kent, Julian Stockwin’s new series and most of Dudly Pope’s Ramage series (which I need to get back to) before I got tire of the genre and needed somthing new along the same lines.
Enter Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels. Books in the Age of Sail genre follow the careers of various fictional captains in the British Royal Navy during the Napoleanic Wars. (To a certain extent, these captains are based on the real life hero Thomas Cochrane whose adventures during the war defy belief.) Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels follow the career of a soldier in the British Army during the Napoleanic wars and are, accordingly, the land-based equivalent of the Age of Sail novels.
Reviewing individual books in the Sharpe series might be a bit of a silly excercise. They follow a formula but it’s a formula I love. Over the course of the series, Richard Sharpe is slowly working his way up through the ranks from private. Along the way he faces various enemies both within the British Amry and without, falls in love with a new drop-dead gorgeous woman in every book, overcomes impossible odds through cunning, bravery and skill and completes one impossible mission after another.
Sharpe is a Mary Sue. Which is not to say he’s a Nancy-boy. Quite the contrary. A Mary Sue is, to quote wikipedia, “a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors or readers.” Think Russell Crowe’s character in Gladiator. Sharpe is the perfect soldier, the perfect leader, the perfect lover.
If it all sounds a bit silly well, it is. But it’s fun. And Cornwell pulls it off because he’s a fantastic writer. His eye for historical detail is fantastic. Each book is well researched and often based on real events. Sharpe is, to an extent, a composit of real men who accomplished incredible things. This historic detail is fascinating but the books are as far from dry as it is possible to get. They are fast paced page turners which grab you from the first page and carry you along at breakneck speed until the last. When I’m reading a Sharpe novel I find the time to read because I can’t put it down until I’m done.
I like the cover featured above. My copy is a Penguin book with an awful cover which looks like it belongs on a Romance novel. The painting above, however, while rousing, does not appear to be a scene from this book. I actually found a third cover that was even better and did depict a scene from Sharpe’s Gold, but I could only find thumbnails of that particular image.