Thursday, December 15, 2016
Sharpe's Havoc, by Bernard Cornwell
As Cornwell himself says, Sharpe has no business being in Portugal at the time because nobody of the 95th Rifles were in Portugal at that point. Sharpe's in an ad hoc situation only loosely attached to the army and spends a considerable portion of the book trapped behind enemy lines which puts him outside the British chain of command and forces Sharpe to rely on his own best judgment. I will say seeing Sharpe make himself a royal nuisance for the French is definitely more interesting than him sitting around the barracks in Britain so I can't say I blame the author for giving him something to do, even if it stretches the bounds of historical authenticity.
Plot-wise Sharpe is tasked with keeping an eye on Colonel Christopher, a man from the Foreign Office sent to gauge popular opinion in Portugal and to see if it's really worth Britain's time and effort to send troops to fight the French. Out of deference to his position in the Foreign Office, Christopher has been brevetted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, despite having no military experience whatsoever. For his own reasons, Christopher is not thrilled at the prospect of having Sharpe and his ragamuffin band of riflemen following him around the Portuguese countryside and is determined to get rid of Sharpe as soon a possible. It is only the winds of war that keep the two from going their separate ways.
Honestly, I feel like this book is just killing time. Wellington's arrival marks a turning point in the Peninsular campaign, but they're far from driving the French back across the Pyrenees. It's like Cornwell had some time for Sharpe to go on an adventure and kill some Frenchmen, and so that's what Sharpe did. And in a way I'm okay with that. The books are marvelously well researched and provide interesting insights into military life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but there's not a lot of substance beyond that.
And I like the Sharpe books, I really do. It's easy reading and while Sharpe is a brutal and vicious character, there's still something admirable about him and the fact that he's got more self-control than a lot of the other soldiers in the series. (Which is a pretty realistic portrayal of warfare at this time as well.) But they're just sort of quick, fun little reads for me when I feel like reading something set during the Napoleonic era. And I guess that's okay. Not everything I read has to be great literature.
Overall, the book's okay. If you're a fan of the Sharpe series you'll probably enjoy this like all the other books you've no doubt read by now. But if you're not a fan yet I'd recommend looking elsewhere for an introduction because this is definitely in the middle of things to say the least.