Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: Sharpe's Escape by Bernard Cornwell

Title: Sharpe's Escape
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: 2006
Pages: 368

Rating: 5 out of 10

I picked this book up at a used bookstore, and it just happened to be the tenth in the series (something that has been happening to me a lot lately).

So I was here introduced to Captain Richard Sharpe, a ruthless soldier fighting in the Bussaco Campaign, 1810 Portugal. Besides battling the French, Sharpe has taken a disliking to a new captain, Slingsby, who is vying to take over his men, and has made an enemy of a traitor selling food to the French army.

This book wasn't lacking in action, and kept the plot moving quickly. I never felt that any particular scene had me reading on the edge of my seat, but it was never boring.
This book was more entertaining than revolutionary, and I liked the subtle humor. I also liked the atmosphere of this book - I felt immersed in army life amidst all of the talk about strategy, battles, soldiers, and so on. It all came across as well researched and aptly written.

I liked the character of Captain Sharpe, a ruthless man who has trouble following army rules and bending to authority. He wasn't the typical soldier I find in historical fiction, riding a marvelous horse (he doesn't even like horses) and trying to compromise between orders to kill and a conscience. One of Sharpe's duties is to roam the land searching for food, bakeries, ovens, and destroy them all, so that the French will be starved into surrender. But what about the women and children who rely on that food to survive? They are barely mentioned.
However, I found Sharpe a bit too much of a "bad guy" at certain intervals. For example, he is jealous of a new captain, Slingsby, and fears that he means to take over his treasured position. He also finds the man exceedingly annoying. So, during a battle, Sharpe aims his gun at Slingsby... And fires! I was surprised. To have the hero of the story contemplate murdering a rival is one thing, to actually and genuinely try is quite another!

The only other problem I saw in this book was the depiction of women during the time period. A proper young Englishwoman named Sarah Fry finds herself kissing a shirtless Sharpe only hours after meeting him, and losing her virginity to him later that night. Sharpe's companions also just so happen to stumble upon another young woman, who is also all too happy to sleep with the one who found her. Perhaps this aspect of the book was put in to further the notion that Sharpe is an irresistible ladie's man, but I simply found it too unrealistic. It is highly, highly unlikely that a well-raised English girl of the early 1800's would behave that way with so little persuading.

Other than that, this book was fine.
Although I probably won't go looking for any of the other Sharpe books, if I happen across one in my book-hunting, I'd be happy to read more of his adventures.