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27 December 2015

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Battle

Sharpe fights for his life and career
The setting is Captain Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, May 1811 - shortly after the destruction of Almeida (Sharpe's Gold). Almeida is still under siege and the French are mounting a campaign to relieve the forces held at that fort.

Sharpe and his small band of riflemen and Redcoats come across the ferocious French Wolf Brigade led by Brigadier Loup, whose colours have wolf tails hanging from them. With Loup is clearing the way for the main French forces, and clearing means total violent clearance of the population without any exceptions.

Sharpe comes across a village in the process of clearance, with dead bodies piled up and two violent rapes in process. When he captures the village from the departing Wolves he meets Brigadier Loup under a white flag discussion and both men know that at some time they will try to kill one another. Sharpe is so incensed at the slaughter that he brings out the two rapists and has them executed by firing squad in front of Loup. This kind of execution is outside the rules of war followed by Lord Wellington, head of the British and Portuguese troops fighting against the French.

Sharpe's tells one of his Portugues allies about his actions and plans. He immediately comes under the risk of a military inquiry or court martial that could finish his career. Before that happens the French attack Wellington's forces in a battle that could easily have seen his forces overrun. Of course,  despite being ordered to look after re-supply of ammunition, Sharpe manages to get in the middle of this battle, and of course, Sharpe is looking out to take his revenge on Brigadier Loup.

This is vintage Sharpe with vivid battle scenes where you are in the centre of the fight, the cannon fire, the gunpowder of the rifles and muskets, and the bloody sword and bayonet carnage. However, this time, it seemed to lack a little something that would have made it outstanding. Maybe it was because this book was written out of sequence, maybe it was because Sharpe didn't find female companionship, maybe it was because Sharpe didn't play a key role in the battle. Or maybe Cornwell found it more difficult to write this book because it was probably forced onto him to complete part of the Sharpe's television series.

Despite that, if you are a Sharpe fan it is another excellent adventure and history lesson - and there are still many more to come, this is #12 out of #20 in this fantastic series.

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