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17 November 2015

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Escape

Richard Sharpe escapes (again) from the French
Bernard Cornwell never ceases to entertain me with his "authentic" historical fictional stories of the adventures for Richard Sharpe, an English footsoldier in the Napoleonic Wars.

This time, it is 1810 and Napoleon is determined to conquer Portugal, but Lord Wellington is determined to defend Lisbon at all costs by building defensive forts and making sure that the French find a wasted land completely stripped of food. Soldiers can only fight or function effectively if they have been well fed and there is the old adage that "an army marches on its stomach".

Sharpe is in charge of a Light Company that is hampered by threats from renegade Portuguese officers who want to ingratiate themselves with the French who they believe will win the conflict. He is also hampered by having an incompetent British officer on his staff who is the brother-in-law of his commanding officer. Sharpe finds himself cut-off in the city of Coimbra as it is burned and pillaged by the French. He also discovers that the renegade Portuguese have a huge hidden stock of food and supplies which they want to sell to the French. Sharpe and his men resolve that this won't happen and try to work out a plan to destroy the supplies before the French get their hands on them.

Of course, as in most Sharpe's adventures, there is a damsel in distress, this time a beautiful but difficult English governess. Of course, Sharpe eventually gains her respect and affection. Of course at the end of the book she goes on her way to a better life helped by Sharpe.

As usual the battle scenes are absorbing and gruesome with Sharpe showing his prowess with the heavy sword and rifle. The historical setting is authentic and Cornwell finds a way to put Sharpe at the centre of the action. Again this is a wonderful page-turning and absorbing history lesson.

I agree with the Washington Post's view that  Bernard Cornwell's is "perhaps the greatest writer of historical adventure novels today". I look forward to reading Sharpe's Fury, the next episode in Wellington's battles in Spain and Portugal.

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