Sharpe’s Prey – Bernard Cornwell

The last of my initial trio of Sharpe tales borrowed from the library, Sharpe’s Prey is also the last of Bernard Cornwell’s prequels to the original Sharpe series. It is a more personal tale, featuring his childhood – the misery and pain of a bastard orphan living in London’s east end docklands – and his doomed love affair with the lovely Lady Grace which began in Sharpe’s Trafalgar.

Set in 1807, two years after Sharpe’s return to England, the early part of the story alludes to the fact that his early years with the 95th Rifles, and as an officer, were not hugely successful and that he is planning to leave the army. We also learn that why and how the path of true love did not run smooth, which adds depth to Sharpe’s reluctance to engage in later love affairs (although his broken heart seems well on the mend by the end of the expedition to Denmark). The action, as good as ever, takes us from East End bar room brawls to the British siege of Copenhagen, with plenty of espionage, counter espionage and spies of both sexes.

Now all I need to do is: (1) read Sharpe’s Tiger and Sharpe’s Triumph, and (2) get the DVD player working…. Sharpe’s Prey – Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe Novels: an Amazon Listmania list, giving the Sharpe series in order of event rather than publication.

Sharpe’s Trafalgar – Bernard Cornwell

Hot on the heels of Sharpe’s Fortress, I raced through the next instalment, Sharpe’s Trafalgar which tells of Richard Sharpe’s return to England from India, via the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. En route he encounters the French in the shape of the warship Revenant and romance in the delightful form of Lady Grace, who is, unfortunately, married to the not so lovely Lord William Hale.

Plenty of detail on life under sail at the start of the 19th century – from the cramped yet hierarchical nature of ship’s quarters to the meagerness of ship’s rations to the tactics of battle at sea. If the battle scenes don’t set your pulse racing, the love story probably will! Sharpe’s Trafalgar – Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe Novels: an Amazon Listmania list, giving the Sharpe series in order of event rather than publication.

Sharpe’s Fortress – Bernard Cornwell

Having fallen victim to the Sean Bean portrayal of rough diamond, raised from the ranks soldier Richard Sharpe, and having started the TV series from its start (thanks to Phil’s self sacrifice in buying me the DVD box set for Christmas) I’d begun to appreciate more fully the comments on Amazon about Bernard Cornwell’s “set earlier, written later” Sharpe novels – ie that Cornwell had been persuaded to divulge the detail on the early years of Sharpe’s career – the time he spent in India, his sea voyage home (handily coinciding with Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar) and his foray into Denmark – all of which take place prior to the 95th Rifles’ arrival on the Iberian peninsula, and feature his initial encounters with Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) and the evil Obidiah Hakeswill.

Ideally I would have started with Sharpe’s Tiger and Sharpe’s Triumph, but the Barbican Library’s largesse was limited to making the next three novels available in one fell swoop. So, not that bad really!

Sharpe’s Fortress is “subtitled” Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Gawilghur, December 1803 which sums up the setting rather neatly. We join Ensign Richard Sharpe and his pre-Rifles regiment, unhappily so, as the British Army’s campaign against the rebellious Mahratta princes continues, laying siege to the impregnable cliff top fortress of Gawilghur. Sharpe shines when he find himself in his element – thinking on his feet, playing dirty where necessary, repaying loyalty with loyalty and respect – but only once he manages to break free from the politics of the “born to it” officer class.

I was worried that I’d not enjoy the novels as much as the TV series – not just the absence of Sean Bean, but also the need to read about the battles rather than simply watching them play out on screen. My fears proved unfounded – yes, there are pages of battle, but they’re written from the soldier’s perspective rather than the tacticians. Plenty of real time blood, guts and glory, hardly any “British regiment moved to position X; Indian forces countered by moving to position Y”. Sharpe’s Fortress – Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe Novels: an Amazon Listmania list, giving the Sharpe series in order of event rather than publication.