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Everyone must be familiar with the Sharpe series of books by Bernard Cornwell. They follow the exploits of Richard Sharpe on his way through the Peninsular Wars, Indian Campaigns, and Napoleonic Wars. Every book has become a best seller and many have been made into superb television dramas starring Sean Bean. There is more to Sharpe than meets the eye though. Each book is centred on a famous or important battle. Cornwell's love of history is obvious, as is the depth of research that goes into each story. As the series progresses Sharpe gets pushed more and more into the sidelines and the real star of the show is the battle itself. Sharpe is just an excuse for Cornwell to write about the event. Indeed, in the author's note at the end of Sharpe's Trafalgar, Cornwell is apologetic for the unbelievable set of circumstances that led to an army ensign fighting at Trafalgar and even taking breakfast with Nelson on the morning of the battle. The format works well though. It is not a new concept. George MacDonald Fraser's superb Flashman series of stories uses the same idea. Flashman is a hilarious, cowardly figure who always seems to come out on top despite his efforts to flee from danger. Flashman, like Sharpe, is present at many important historical events but does not confine himself solely to battles. MacDonald Fraser gets his historical points across by using footnotes. As the series went on the footnotes got longer and more involved, with the result that they spoiled the flow of the story. Cornwell has a much better solution. He leaves any clarification of artistic license to the author's note at the end of the book. The genius of his writing is the empathy the reader gets with the characters. One can truly imagine the squalor that soldiers lived in. The fear and tension of battle is put across in a way that no purely non-fiction history book could hope to. Sharpe's character is cleverly placed too. As an off
icer commissioned from the ranks, he is in the unfortunate position of not fitting fully in with either the officers and their wives or his men. This is to our benefit though as the barriers to social climbing in that era are clearly laid out for us to see. Sharpe is invariably taken under the wing of the senior officer present at the battle. The commander treats Sharpe as a willing and able pupil, so the tactics and reasoning behind every decision is explained for him, and us, to understand. Sharpe is promoted between every battle so we get to live the lifestyle of just about every rank in the British Army at this time. Bernard Cornwell is a superb thriller writer. His stories stand on their own merits without the historical aspect. There are enough twists in the fast paced tales to keep you gripped, even if napoleonic warfare is not your thing. If you have never read a Sharpe novel then I strongly recommend that you try one. If you have, then go back and re-read them as historical accounts of some vital turning points in our history. Sharpe truly is a man of many talents.
It is 1805 and Sharpe is on his way home from India to join the newly formed Green Jackets. The voyage should be a period of rest but his ship is riven with treachery and threatened by a formidable French warship the Revenant, which is terrorising British shipping in the Indian Ocean. An old opponent of Sharpe's is aboard his ship, and the voyage is further disturbed by the Lady Grace Hale, apparently as unreachable as she is beautiful. So, the stage is set for the usual trials and tribulations of Richard's career - but we all know he has more lives than a cat.... The meeting with Nelson was a bit contrived, even by Cornwell's standards - but it is a rattling good read!
Richard Sharpe sets sail during the British campaign against Napolean's French navy. The character has been built up through a large collection of novels (some 15-17 books) and through a similar number of films. Although the stories warp the facts of what actually occured, they are still a fantastic read as Bernard Cornwell really captures the essence of life during the Napoleonic Wars. Although the books can drag on the writing style makes them a plesure rather than a chore to read.
I have devoured the exploits of Richard Sharpe since the beginning, see all the films, even listened to the audio books when I HAVE BEEN TOO LAZY TO READ! So it was with great anticpation that I got hold of Sharpes Trafalgar. Bernard Cornwell has contrived to get Richard Sharpe to every momentous military event in the Napoleonic Wars, so it should be no surprise to see that he has finally inveigled him into this great Naval battle. after X books, the formula is a little predictable, and it stretches credibility somewhat for Sharpe to be rubbing shoulders with Nelson, Wellington (and, previously, Napoleon) but it is nonetheless a rattling good read!