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26 June 2015

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Eagle

One of the best in a great historical series
While Sharpe's Eagle is #8 in time order in Bernard Cornwell's great historical series featuring Richard Sharpe, a footsoldier in India and in the Napoleonic Wars, this was the first book about Sharpe that Cornwell wrote. IMHO it is one of the best in the series that I have read so far and almost seamlessly fits in with the seven previous books that were written later.

Cornwell started writing the series about one of the bloodiest battles of the Napoleonic Wars, the Battle of Talavera (27–28 July 1809) where Britain, aided (and hindered) by the Spanish, faced up to collected French armies. Both sides lost over 7,000 soldiers each in a battle that lasted less than 2 days.

Lieutenant Sharpe's small contingent of riflemen join up with a regiment set up and commanded by an incompetent Colonel. When Sharpe's men help to get the badly trained regiment out of trouble (including protecting the regimental colours) the Colonel becomes a strong, rich and powerful enemy. Fortunately Sharpe's actions gets the attention of Sir Arthur Wellesley (to be made the Duke of Wellington after the battle) who gives him a battlefield promotion to Captain.

The only way Sharpe can protect his future career as a Captain is to fight for the honour of the regiment. He figures out that one way to do this is by a feat of bravery that will command everybody's attention. He sets out to capture a French Imperial Eagle - a figure of an eagle on a staff carried into battle as a standard by the French armies the Napoleonic Wars in place of regimental colours.

Sharpe is not your standard military hero - he joined the army to escape jail and became an officer through sheer military brilliance and leadership. Sharpe isn't rich and mostly leads by example not authority. The army is his only family, especially the 95th Rifles whose tattered green jacket he proudly wears. He is intolerant of the competence of most other officers who come from rich aristocratic backgrounds and the feeling is mutual. He is also a consummate ladies man - once again in this book he continues this tradition with a Portuguese beauty who is following the regiment.

This is yet another fantastic historical adventure in the Richard Sharpe series which surrounds you with the heat of battles fought so long ago, I have resolved to read in its entirety in the next twelve months.

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