Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sharpe's Gold, by Bernard Cornwell

Today I'm looking at what's probably the most fictional of the Sharpe series. Obviously the Sharpe books play a little fast and loose with history since Sharpe has to have something to do, but the only historical event that comes into play in this book is the siege of Almeida. Although it's not quite accurate to call it a siege because after the Coalition magazine exploded, taking a sizeable chunk of the town and its defenses with it, it was basically impossible for the Coalition to hold the town against the French. And of course, Sharpe has something to do with the magazine exploding. Otherwise this book is very heavily fictionalized.

At the star of this book, Sharpe has a meeting with his old acquaintance Wellington who is now in charge of the British armies in the Iberian Peninsula. Wellington orders Sharpe to take his light company and head off with an exploring officer to retrieve a cache of Spanish gold. Officially, the gold is supposed to be sent to the Spanish junta who are Britain's allies, but Wellington informs Sharpe that the gold absolutely must come to the British army and British victory or defeat is entirely dependent on if they can get that gold or not.

Sharpe and company head off once again into enemy territory and soon find themselves in a complex situation. The town where the gold is located is occupied by two troops of French cavalry and they're engaged in a running battle with the local Spanish partisans and guerilla fighters. Even if they can get the French out of the town, it doesn't seem likely that the Spanish will just let Sharpe walk away with the gold. Plus Sharpe knows it's only a matter of time before the French advance cuts off any chance he has of successfully getting back to the British army.

Overall I feel like this book could be safely skipped by the more casual readers of the series. Sharpe does meet Teresa who, thanks to a short story, I know he marries later, but in the book she doesn't stand out much beyond the other eight women he's fallen in love with in pretty much every previous book. Seriously, it's like: Sharpe's in a new book? Sharpe gets a new woman. Maybe Teresa will be developed more but she doesn't seem all that different from all the other women across Europe who seem to be swooning for Sharpe.

Otherwise, since it's so divorced from real events it's kind of hard to justify this book beyond, ''Sharpe has to get some gold for Wellington.'' As I said, there's the explosion of the magazine at Almeida, and Sharpe has a hand in that, but I think you could safely say the French shells were mostly responsible for the destruction. Otherwise he's chasing gold that didn't exist, fighting a partisan leader who didn't exist, to help Wellington build the Lines outside Lisbon which would stop the French army from conquering all of the Peninsula and let the British go back on the offensive.

I do enjoy these books, even if they're pretty formulaic in the extreme. But I think if you really wanted to skip this book, you wouldn't be missing out on a whole heck of a lot.

- Kalpar

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