I have lost count of the number of Sharpe books I've read so far. They do tend to repeat themselves, apply the same formula of Richard Sharpe being involved in one of the landmark battles of the Napoleonic Wars, demostrating his professional soldiering talents, and lately his leadership ability. But the books remain entertaining and informative, even if they do not raise to the level of the Warlord or Saxon series, so I guess I will continue to read them until the last installment. They're particularly good for a lazy summer weekend, when you don't feel up to heavier material and you just want to relax with some reliable historical adventures.
In this episode the major battle featured is the one between the Portuguese and their British allies under Lord Wellington and the French Imperial Army (I think lead by Massena), on the border of Spain in the village of Fuentes de Onoro. As I have noticed before, the French have the superior numbers and go on the offensive, while Wellington tactics are to find the high ground and organize a defensive position from where he can rely on the better training (read rate of fire) of his soldiers and on the British bulldog perseverence to deflect the attacks of La Grande Armee and live to fight another day.
The particulars of this battle that are worth mentioning are as usual the clarity of the presentation by Cornwell, who sets out the layout of the field, the organization of the opposing forces, their tactics, their mistakes and the consequences. But what brings it all in focus to me are the details on the ground, the 'thick of it' where he usually puts Sharpe and his rifle company. I made note here of the extremely bloody street battle for control of the village, a very orderly retreat under fire and cavalry attacks by some infantry regiments, the always futile attempts of the French columns to attack uphill against musket squadrons set in line. This is not the first time Bernard Cornwell sings the praise of the British footsoldier, but I believe I can insert yet another example of what he considers the reason they won so many battles in the nineteen century:
He bit the bullet off the cartridge, then held the round in his mouth as he pulled the rifle's hammer back one click to the half cock. He could taste the acrid, salty powder in his mouth as he poured a pinch of powder from the cartridge into the lock's open pan. He held tight to the rest of the cartridge as he pulled the frizzen full up to close the the pan cover, then, with the rifle so primed, he let its brass stock fall to the ground. He poured the rest of the cartridge's powder into the muzzle, crammed the empty waxed cartridge paper on top of the powder to serve as wadding, then bent his head to spit the bullet into the gun. He yanked out the steel ramming rod with his left hand, spun the ramrod so that the splayed head faced downwards and thrust the rod hard down the barrel. He pulled it out, spun it again and let it fall into its holding rings, then tossed the rifle up with his left hand, caught it under the lock with his right and pulled the hammer back through a second click so that the weapon was at full cock and ready to fire. It had taken him twelve seconds and he had not thought once about what he was doing, nor even looked at the gun while he loaded it.
Because one battle is not really enough to justify a full length historical novel, we are offered here an adversary for Sharpe, a romantic interest of sorts, a side quest with political implications and a pitched night battle specially aimed at Sharpe. The adversary is Brigadier General Guy Loup whom we meet in the opening chapter where he swears bloody revenge on Sharpe for killing two French prisoners from his brigade, caught raping a village girl during a patrol. Loup is an anti-guerrilla specialist, spreading terror on the border by indiscriminate killing, raping and destruction of property among the civilians he suspects are aiding and abetting the partisans. His mentality comes uncomfortably close to what we are still witnessing today in the Middle East and elsewhere. The duel between him and Sharpe colours most of the novel and is reasonably well integrated into the larger conflict.
The romantic interest, or should I say woman troubles, for Sharpe is embodied in the stunningly beautiful but morally suspect Dona Juanita, a Spanish lady who likes to dress in men's uniforms she gains trough her bedroom talents. She is involved both with the allies, with the French and, by the end, she gets one of Sharpe's uniforms, despite its rather patched and faded aspect.
The political sidequest puts Sharpe in charge of training and supervising a company of Spanish saloon soldiers, the one time palace guards for the deposed King of Spain. La Real Compania Irlandesa is formed by Irish outcasts, led by Lord Kiely, a young aristocrat more interested in wine, hunting, parties and loose women than in the martial arts. Wellington doesn't trust them, so he sends the company to an abandoned fort, with instructions to Sharpe to make their lives miserable until they decide to leave on their own accord. Their presence is complicated by the the news from Ireland where the English are spreading their own brand of terror in putting down one more Irish attempt at independence. Sharpe tries to train them as soldiers instead, and use them both against Loup and in the final battle of Fuentes de Onora.
One last quote I have here is a discussion between Sharpe and his Irish friend, sergeant Patrick Harper, about the rumours of British atrocities circulating in the camp, probably spread by a French spy:
That's how you and I live. We're practical men, Pat, not bloody dreamers! We believe in the Baker rifle, the Tower musket and twenty-three inches of bayonet. You can leave superstitions to women and children.
Conclusion: not the best in the series, too little personal development for Sharpe, very good battle scenes as usual, but rather forgettable and repetitive plot. Will continue with the series.
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|Title||Sharpe's Battle (Sharpe, #12)|
|File size||1.3 Mb|
|eBook format||Paperback, (torrent)|
|Book rating||4.1 (4312 votes)
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