You may recall that my last book review was of David Lee Summer’s second book in the Scarlet Order series. I enjoyed it thoroughly and despite being a vampire tale it brought back memories of the historical novels that I used to enjoy. So I decided to look for a historical series that was new to me. Having been an incredible fan of authors such as C. S. Forester, Alexander Kent, Dudley Pope and Patrick O’Brian, I searched for something addressing the Napoleonic era. I vaguely recalled my father being a fan of Bernard Cornwell and so decided to try the Richard Sharpe series. I am now hooked.
So far I am seven books into a twenty-one book series. So if you are someone who likes huge series then this is definitely a big tick.
The protagonist is Richard Sharpe, a London orphan from the rookeries (the poor criminal parts of the city). We meet him in the first book (Sharpe’s Tigers) as a private in the British Army fighting in India. He is a bit of a violent thug, taciturn and cynical and often self-seeking, but he does have his own set of morals. In this sense he is the typical flawed masculine character that is often an antihero, and yet he is not. He also has enemies within the army who do him relentlessly. And women. Beautiful women who find it difficult to ignore Sharpe’s raw animal masculinity (sorry – I really felt the need to express that in such a way because that is definitely what it feels like). In reading Sharpe’s Tigers we find ourselves reading a tale of battle, betrayal, revenge, romance, and exotic locations. I would describe the book as being a bit like an Errol Flynn film but with Clint Eastwood playing the principal role (that probably makes little sense).
The next two books are also set in India before Cornwall decides to give Sharpe a naval adventure. Being a Hornblower fan I naturally enjoyed Sharpe’s Trafalgar. The characterisation and the pace were just right. Sharpe then moves back into the European theatre of battle.
Besides the writing, the things I really enjoyed were the insights and explanations that Cornwall gives us. For example, do you know the difference between a cannon and a howitzer? I had no idea there was a difference. Look it up. Cornwall explains the difference. There are a lot of technical details about weapons technology that I had no idea about until reading these novels. Cornwall does for the weapon technology of that time was reading Tom Clancy did for many of us about the weapon technology of our time. Loved it.
Cornwall also explains historical events really well. He uses a lot of real people as his characters. For example, Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, appears in most of the novels that I have read so far. Sharpe ends up having this strange sort of familiarity with the General that is quite enjoyable.
Anyway, I am loving these and it may be a few months before I get back to fantasy, science fiction and horror.