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16 December 2014

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Prey

Sharpe at the Battle of Copenhagen
This is #5 chronologically in Bernard Cornwell's fantastic historical saga about Richard Sharpe, a footsoldier in the British Army during the late 18th and early 19th Century. In #4 SHARPE'S TRAFALGAR we saw Sharpe returning from India with the ship carrying him getting involved in the Battle of Trafalgar.

During the voyage Sharpe becomes deeply romantically involved with Lady Grace Hale and settles down in England with her as she prepares for the birth of their child. Everything goes wrong with Grace dying in childbirth and her aristocratic family taking the remaining wealth from his adventures in India. Sharpe is devastated and considers selling his Commission to survive but is even more devastated to learn that battlefield commissions cannot be sold because they weren't bought in the first place.

On top of all of this his posting to the 95th Rifles Regiment is also turning into a disaster as he is not accepted as a "real" officer and is posted to a behind-the-lines position as quartermaster. Just aftrer Sharpe takes extreme action to remedy his precarious financial and career dilemma he is approached by a senior officer to help with an undercover operation. At first this seems to be an easy task, to provide security to a Guards' officer to Denmark to persuade their government to surrender their fleet to the English to prevent it getting into Bonaparte's hands.

Again Cornwell places Sharpe in the centre of a major battle, once again mostly behind enemy lines where he can influence the outcome. This time it is the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807 where the British Army and Navy bombard the city into defeat and capture the fleet, the biggest remaining outside of England following the Battle of Trafalgar.

Cornwell has an amazing ability to seamlessly blend historical reality, characters and battles with Sharpe's adventures to give us an action-packed history. I had absolutely no knowledge of this part of history and was amazed at the audacity of the English in carrying out a major bombardment so far from home which will be remembered as one of the first bombardments in Europe that was a general attack on the populace as well as the opposing military.

Once again Sharpe is confronted with a cunning and unscrupulous adversary and has to fight for his life. In the process he also makes an emotional connection to a woman who may help him to move on from the loss of his beloved Grace.

This is yet another fantastic historical adventure in the Richard Sharpe series which I have resolved to read in its entirety in the next twelve months.

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