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Sharpe's Rifles - Bernard Cornwell

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Author: Bernard Cornwell / Genre: Fiction

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    5 Reviews
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      15.11.2008 15:08



      Well written, good action

      Sharpe's Rifles is part of a series of books by Bernard Cornwell, the series is based on a fictional British Soldier, Richard Sharpe during the 17/1800's, it is historically fiction based on real battles and sometimes real events during this time. The books where originally during the Napoleonic wars but Bernard Cornwell has since written about his time before this war.

      This book was written 6th in the Sharpe series and was published in 1988, by HarperCollins and is also available in audio book.

      The Story

      Richard Sharpe has recently been promoted to Lieutenant from the ranks and given command of a squad of men in the 95th Rifle Regiment and he has to cover the retreat the British army towards Corunna in the winter of 1809, after being cut of from the main army Sharpe and his men must travel through Enemy territory to rejoin the main army camp.

      Along the way they encounter, Blas Vivar a Spanish Officer and some partisans who offer to help Sharpe rejoin the army for assistance in his mission to help raise a rebellion in the city of Santiago de Compostela and defeat the garrison freeing the city from French control.

      Main Characters

      Richard Sharpe - Lieutenant in the British army, main character
      Patrick Harper - Soldier in the 95th Rifle Regiment
      Michael Hogan - Captain of engineers and a exploring officer
      Major Blas Vivar - Spanish ally
      Count of Mouromorto - Ally of France, commander of Santiago de Compostela garrison

      My Opinion

      Not one of the best books in the series, but as with all of them it is well written, with a good plot with plenty of action, and good battle scenes. It is a good read and introduces some of the characters who will be appearing later in the series and is well worth reading, if you like the TV series the books are even better.


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      23.01.2006 06:31
      Very helpful



      Easy and enjoyable action novel containing well researched historical setting and strong characters.

      Sharpe's Rifles.

      Richard Sharpe and the French Invasion of Galacia,January 1809.

      Author - Bernard Cornwell

      I've had a rotten weekend.I can't stop sneezing,I'm burning up,heads thumping,I've no energy and my eyes are red raw.I'm sure this is a situation that many of us are familiar with;the good old winter blues.A perculiarly British experience,no doubt.

      Why are you wittering on about your cold when you're meant to be reviewing a novel?

      Simple,I'm getting around to explain that I've spent the weekend in bed.

      Well?So what?

      With little on T.V to take my fancy,I've found myself looking for something to kill my time and what better way than to read a book.But.

      My minds not up to something new,my concentration's not on top form so as often the case in these trying moments I've resorted to reading an old favourite(ah,now we'er getting to it).

      And Sharpe's Rifles is definetly an old favourite.I've no idea how many times I've read this particular novel but it IS many and not only is the familiar story ideal for me when I'm feeling low but the easy and enjoyable style in which it is written mean it's hard to put down once begun.

      Now I'm sure many of you have seen the excellent T.V series produced by Carlton and are familiar with the overall premise.
      The main character being played by the aptly suited Sean Bean,even though there are several main differences from the actual written character(more of those later.)

      Incidently,I cannot remember whether I read this book before I saw the first T.V episode but I do remember that it was my father who kept trying to turn me on to reading them.And it was this first in the series that I read first.It was the first novel at the time,since then there have been several prequels.


      The main bulk of this series of novels are based in the Peninsular War 1808-1813,which was fought,mainly in Spain,between the Napoleonic Army of France and the combined forces of Great Britian,Spain and Portugal,I know there were German soldiers and others who fought but these are the main combatants.

      In late 1808,Sir John Moore,often described as 'the unlucky general' led a force of 20,000 troops from Lisbon into Spain,after several bruising encounters with the French,under Marshall Soult,was forced to retreat to Corunna in North Western Spain.

      The retreat to Corunna,in the late winter of 1808/09,is one of those historical times etched into the memory of the British Army and is where the novel begins.


      Now I'm not going to be so evil as to tell you the whole story,that would be bad form.

      As I've just said,it is during this gruelling retreat that the novel opens,finding Lieutenant(pronounced Lef - tenant,by the way,for those of you brought up on American T.V)Richard Sharpe at the very tail-end of the British Army.

      Our hero,being neither fish nor foul,is disliked by his men and despised by his superiors.

      While engaging in a constant rear-guard action against advance units of the French Cavalry,the unlucky Light Infantary unit,95th Rifles are suddenly caught by more Cavalry and cut to ribbons,Lieutenant Sharpe and half a company of rifles only manage to escape by making high ground where the French horses cannot follow.Although they manage to take the wounded Captain Murray with them,his wounds are fatal and Sharpe finds himself cut off from his army and commanding soldiers who do not respect his authority and do not want to follow his orders.

      Hold up in and old barn high up in the Spanish mountains,private Patrick Harper,a gigantic and massive Irishman who is the mens true leader decides that Sharpe's attempt to head south to Lisbon is a pointlessly dangerous exercise.He believes that they should be heading north and gives Sharpe an ultimatum,either come with us or die here.

      Sharpe,realising that if he was to follow the men north then he would lose all of the tenous authority he has over the men attempts to beat Harper into submission.

      Not long after they find themselves in this position,they are discovered by the enigmatic Don Blas Vivar,a major in the Spanish Army,who agrees to lead them to safety,though his motives are not as pure as they at first seem for he has his own particular mission and his own use for this motley band of British soldiers.

      I'll leave the plot there,if I was to tell you the story there would be no point in reading the book,would there.


      Richard Sharpe,at age 31,seems to be old for only a Lieutenant in the Bitish Army but this is because he joined as a private and was raised from the ranks to become an officer by saving the life of the then General Authur Wellesly,later to become the Duke of Wellington,at the battle of Assaye in 1803.

      This is an important factor in the novel,the series as a whole and to the character of Richard Sharpe.

      The British Army of the 18 and 19th century could never have been descibed as a meritocracy,unlike Napoleon's Army as it is based on wealth,privalege and connections at court.

      To become an officer,first you had to be a gentleman,you bought your commision to Lieutenant and bought your promotions thereafter,meaning that more often than not the men in command were wholly unsuited to their rank,having neither proper experience or even the intelligence to do their job properly.

      Under these conditions,a man raised from the ranks of the 'damned' was despised for not having the right background,parentage,wealth or social graces to be a real officer and gentleman.Also the men that the unfortunate upstart would have to command got no respect due to the fact that the rank and file believed that officers were born not made,meaning that someone raised from the ranks would be one of them and not someone that had the right to tell them what to do.

      It is his lack of proper education and the sort of upbringing that a 'true born' officer and gentleman would have that constantly plague Sharpe.Whereas other officers not only assume their right from birth to tell the lower orders what to do,they automatically expect that their orders will be carried out.Sharpe,on the other hand,not having natural authority or the easy leadership of one born to it often resorts to foul language,abuse and his fists to reinforce his authority thus only breeding resentment from those under his command,he is one of them so what gives him the right to tell them what to do - he's no better than us.

      This is the position that Sharpe finds himself and something he constantly has to contend with,although by the end of this novel he prooves to his men that he may not be a gentleman but is a very compotent,hard and experienced soldier.In turn,they come to trust and respect their irregular officer as he understands them and looks out for them in a way any true 'gentleman officer' never could.

      The vast majority of the proper officers he meets along his way though do not like this officer because aside from their social prejudices they don't believe he has the wit and intellegance for proper command.There are several that do realise his potential though,notably Wellington himself.

      As for the men under his command,the most outspoken of them is Patrick Harper,a giant Irishman.He may be only a be a private but is the one that the men listen to and hates his new officer but after the severe beating he recieves from Sharpe at the beginning of the story and also because of the assertions of Vivar he comes to respect Sharpe and a true friendship is born that will be a feature of the series.

      Sharpe constantly doubts his authority and feels that he himself is not a proper officer in the true sense and this is perfectly highlighted in the relationship between him and the Spanish officer Major Vivar,whoes easy authority and leadership instantly earns the respect of Sharpe's men,particularly Harper and this annoys Sharpe a lot.

      Vivar soon learns to respect this rough and crude officer for his abilities and leadership under fire.Vivar constantly teases Sharpe over his lack of social background and the British in general but due to lack of social skill and self confidence with his percieved betters he rarely has an answer and responds in a bad tempered and crude fashion which only seems to amuse Vivar more.


      These books and this first of the series in particular are very well researched from a historical point of view and are written in an easy,enjoyable style which makes them hard to put down.

      They make entertaining and likeable action stories and the 'fish out of water' theme of Sharpe's position plus the meticulously researched historical content and setting only add to the overall enjoyability.

      My version of the book is actually a hard back published by Collins in 1988 and has 304 pages so I can't tell you what the price of the latest paperback version would be but I can't imagine it would be more than,say,£6.99 and at that sort of price has to be very good value for money.

      Having just read my review through I notice that I said there were several differences between the character of the novels and the ones portrayed by Sean Bean on the T.V,these are just differences in his appearence and background.

      The Sharpe of the novels is from London,6ft and dark haired.Sean Bean isn't,which is about the only real difference.Aside from that,Sean Bean's character is essentially the same as the novel and very well played.BB


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        25.08.2005 00:11
        Very helpful



        A great read, so glad someone recommended I gave it a try....

        I normally don't buy a book after watching a film or television programme as I usually end up disappointed because the adaptation didn't actually live up to the written word. However, I was persuaded to have a try at reading Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books (by someone who knew I'd enjoyed the television series), and this, Sharpe's Rifles is the first that I have read. This is neither the first book in the series that was written, nor the first in chronological order, but actually corresponds to the opening episode of the television series (and was indeed written at series' producers request). I started with this particular book because I was curious as to how it would compare to the screen version, would it be as good, would I be as enthralled? Read on and find out….

        Sharpe's Rifles is one of a series of historical novels, set during the Napoleonic wars and this particular instalment is set in 1809, when the French definitely had the upper hand and were driving the English out of Spain. During the rout Richard Sharpe, a lieutenant who has been raised from the ranks finds himself separated from the rest of his regiment along with a group of surly, insubordinate riflemen and now he has win the men over, capture a town, and help restore the Spaniard's faith in themselves. (I'm deliberately not telling you anymore about the plot, otherwise there would be no point you reading the book, would there?)

        As I was jumping in at the deep end (so to speak), having never read the "earlier" books (that were written later), and having actually only watched the series, I was a little concerned that my own pre-conceived ideas about the characters would deflect from the impressions the author would have liked me to form. But (to my pleasant surprise) I found the characters well drawn, if slightly different to what I expected. The main character, Sharpe, was in manners and attitude, exactly what I expected, but in appearance (and age) completely different. For those who haven't actually watched the series (or read any of the books) Richard Sharpe was a bit of an oddity in the English army of the 19th century. He was a common man raised from the ranks as a reward for an act of extreme bravery. In a time where officers were, in the main, gentlemen who had bought their commissions, he had to fight against the ingrained prejudices of both other officers and the enlisted men. Personally, I felt the way Sharpe was portrayed in the book was actually far more natural than on-screen as the character and his relationships with his men had far more time to fully develop.

        And the one enlisted man with whom he slowly builds a strong relationship (and even friendship), is Patrick Harper, an Irishman in an English army. As this is set in a time when Ireland was still "occupied" by the English and it's citizens were seen as inferior and heavily discriminated against it's easy to see the parallels between Harper and Sharpe. What impressed me was the way that loathing turned to grudging respect and then finally friendship. For me at least this was the most interesting side-plot, and one that I felt was well played out and a definite highlight of the book.

        Although I have a quite diverse reading taste, I've previously read relatively few historical novels as I tend to find that the action is a bit slow and humour severely lacking. This was so different, almost from the first page I was hooked and found myself actually wanting to know what happened next. In fact I would say the actual writing style, while perhaps a little on the simplistic side, made the book a pleasure to read, with just the right amount of action. Locations were well described, without being overly so, the battle scenes made me feel as if I was actually there and the various interactions between different (classes of) characters seemed perfectly natural. As far as historical accuracy goes, I would have had no idea how well the plot followed genuine events if it wasn't for the interesting little afterword by the author, all I can say is that I couldn't have pointed out any glaring mistakes. However, not having read any of the other books in the series (yet), I couldn't tell you if there are any inconsistancies ( in either characters or events) or how well it compares to the others, I can only say it's one of , if not the, most entertaining historical novels I've read. The only real downside that I can see is that there are not really that many layers to the story, and it will probably be some months before I am ready to return to it's pages, but as I was so impressed with this instalment I've already ordered two more books in the series (so it must have been good).

        So am I recommending Sharpe's Rifles? Well if (like me) you find that the reading written word is a far more satisfying experience than watching an adaptation, and are normally disappointed with said adaptations then you will probably enjoy this book. If, however, you find it harder to visualise characters just from reading about them, you'd probably be better off watching the series starring Sean Bean. Personally, I loved the book and felt it was vastly superior to the adaptations (which I still enjoyed) and can't wait to read about more of Sharpe's (mis-) adventures.

        --Technical Bits--

        Paperback : 352 pages
        Publisher : HarperCollins
        ISBN : 0006176976

        Price : £5.59 (from Amazon UK)


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          16.07.2001 00:36



          Sharpes Rifles and indeed every single one of the Sharpe series of novels by Bernard Cornwell are well worth reading. If you like your books to be entertaining, then you have to read this series. Sharpes rifles follows the journey of Lieutenant Richard Sharpe, a officer raised from thew ranks, as he trys to lead a small force of men to safety across French occupied Spain. The men he's trying to return think less of his abilities, and mutiny looks on the cards until a Spanish military unit helps to prove Sharpes worth, and the mens loyalty. Once you start reading this book you will find it almost impossible to put down, and when you have finished it, you will be heading to the shops to buy the next in the series.


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            15.05.2001 21:07
            Very helpful
            1 Comment



            This Bernard Cornwell book is set in the aftermath of the devastating defeat of the army under Sir John Moore at Corunna during the Peninsular War in Portugal and is our first introduction to the character of Richard Sharpe. Cornwell ably describes the limbo that Sharpe finds himself in. As a officer promoted from the ranks his fellow officers see him as an upstart and the men in the ranks don’t believe he can be a “proper” officer because he isn’t of the gentry. Because of this antipathy towards him he is given the role of battalion quartermaster, a job reserved for either those that fail or like Sharpe are perceived to be above their station in society. Following a brutal skirmish with French light cavalry Sharpe and a small group of men escape into the mountains and there follows a long eventful journey to the winter staging area where the rest of the Allied army has set up camp. Cornwell again shows his through his passionate writing how hard it was for a common soldier at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Yet again his research is meticulous even describing the French dragoons “cadenettes” (pigtails). A good book for the Sharpe veteran reader but not ideal for the people new to the series. Unfortunately this is billed as the beginning of the series. People new to the series would be better off reading Sharpes Tiger for background and then reading this as it explains a lot of assumed information. Priced at £5.99 (sterling) this a excellent read and good value for money.


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          • Product Details

            The first book of Bernard Cornwell's Richard Sharpe saga.

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