Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sharpe's Rifles, by Bernard Cornwell

This week I'm reviewing Sharpe's Rifles, which is actually one of the earlier books in the series in order of publication date, but actually sixth in the series based on chronological order. Also I've come to the realization I'm six books into this series which is a little daunting to say the least. This book is also the first to take place in Spain during the Peninsular War which apparently is a majority of the series. Much like in the previous book, Shapre's Prey, Sharpe is currently a lieutenant in the 95th Rifles and is serving as a quartermaster rather than a fighting officer. This book basically shows us Sharpe's transition and the forging of his partnership with Sergeant Harper, who I strongly suspect will be a very important character in later books. (And for people who've already read them, I'm aware that might be an understatement.)

The biggest issue I had comes probably from reading this series in chronological rather than publication order. This book feels like the biggest reset within the series because we see Sharpe reduced back to being nothing more than a misfit officer promoted from the ranks who isn't respected by the men under him and isn't trusted by the officers above him. Also all the riches and spoils he gained from India are long gone, actually disappeared between Trafalgar and Prey so he's back to being dirt poor again too.

If you're reading the series in publication order than it's probably less jarring to see Sharpe at his absolute worst. After all he's got to build up from basically nothing to become the god among men as portrayed by Sean Bean he eventually becomes. However, if you read in chronological order with his campaigns in India first, it's very jarring to see Sharpe as distrusted by everyone. Despite being a common soldier, people still kind of saw Sharpe as one of the best damn soldiers in the entire British army and there were a few willing to look past his more unusual background. Heck, even in Sharpe's Prey there are powerful patrons who may actually influence Sharpe's career which only makes it that much stranger when he's in Spain as a quartermaster.

Another weird thing that it only took me about six books to notice is Sharpe seems to have a different woman he falls in love with every book. Seriously, it's at the point where I'm suspecting Cornwell had something written into his contract where Sharpe had to meet a beautiful woman and fall in love with her every book, with Sharpe only occasionally getting the girl. It's kind of believable at first, when he meets one or two ladies, but after the sixth it's kind of like, ''Oh, she's the love of your life? Really, Sharpe, you don't say? Mhm, do go on.'' I hate to say it because I'm stereotypically one of those not interested in romance sorts of people, but it's cropping up so much it's practically formulaic. I'm afraid this has the potential to just be incredibly annoying as the series goes on.

I think overall my biggest problem was that I read other books where Sharpe's more developed and becomes the best damn soldier in the entire damn British army and everyone knows it, where now he's basically a nobody. It's a big disconnect, but I think a result of prequels more than anything else. It's okay otherwise. Fairly standard battle scenes but not much else to write home about.

- Kalpar

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