Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sharpe's Triumph, by Bernard Cornwell

This week I've decided to continue with Cornwell's much-acclaimed Sharpe series, continuing in chronological order with Sharpe's Triumph. It has been four years since the siege of Seringapatam, where Sharpe earned his sergeant's stripes, and he's been peacefully serving in the armory of the now British-controlled town. However, Sharpe's peaceful existence soon comes to an end when his old friend Colonel McCandless recruits Sharpe to help him hunt down an English officer who has deserted, joined one of the Indian princes now opposing the British, and taken an entire company of highly trained sepoys with him. Along the way they must join up with Sharpe's old colonel, Arthur Wellesley, who's been promoted to Major General and is leading the next British war in India.  In addition, Sharpe's old enemy of Obadiah Hakeswill returns with his vicious vendetta against Sharpe.

Overall I rather liked this book, much like the previous one, and I get the feeling that most of the books in this series are not going to stray too far from what's definitely a winning formula. The novels in this series are going to drag Richard Sharpe from one conflict to another in the many wars that Britain was involved in during the early nineteenth century, and along the way he's going to have plenty of interesting adventures. I'll admit it doesn't really break new ground but the formula works if you go into it accepting it is what it is and not expecting too terribly much beyond some exciting nineteenth century action. Again, Cornwell manages to capture the visceral realness of warfare in this time period and it's a bloody, messy affair, rather than something noble and glorious, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the thrill regardless.

I will admit, and this is kind of a weakness of historical fiction regardless of time period, that it kind of relies on what I like to call the Forrest Gump Principle: that the fictional protagonist who is in no way particularly special himself was in some way connected to some famous event, or knew famous people, or both. In a particularly long series it can become almost preposterous, such as the Young Indiana Jones series your protagonist may end up being on a first name basis with numerous world leaders and still somehow be just an ordinary joe like the rest of us. It is by far one my biggest peeves with historical fiction, yet at the same time I recognize that it's necessary because history is usually written just about important people and events and the little guy often gets overlooked, so if you want to talk about him he's still going to be tied to the important things. Thus Sharpe's career rather closely follows Wellington's and Sharpe, being a hero after all, will usually be in the right place at the right time.

If you liked Sharpe's Tiger or any of the other Sharpe novels I'm sure you'll enjoy this one as well. I will definitely continue to read the series, but I will probably intersperse it with other books because I do not expect terribly great variation beyond location in these books.

- Kalpar

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