Review

Sharpe's Escape: Portugal, 1810

by Bernard Cornwell



Those of you who are coming to SHARPE'S ESCAPE after reading the
previous nineteen volumes may be excused for sighing every now and
then. Richard Sharpe, that dauntless desperado of Lord Wellington's
Peninsular Campaign, is back, fighting against the forces of
Napoleon in Portugal. And, of course, Sergeant Patrick Harper is
here, wielding his massive nine-barreled gun and yet another
incompetent English

commander to contend with, and a perfidious ally. And, of course,
Sharpe makes a powerful enemy early on, this time a heavily muscled
Portuguese enforcer selling contraband to the French. By the time
the innocent English governess shows up behind enemy lines, even
the most devoted fan of Bernard Cornwell's masterful series may be
rolling his eyes a bit. This is --- quite literally ---- territory
that fans of the series have marched over before, more than
once.

Cornwell has a gift and a curse. His gift is his intimate knowledge
of Wellington's campaign against Napoleon and his ability to
transmit that knowledge through the exploits of Richard Sharpe on
the battlefield. (Sharpe's parallel achievements in the bedroom, of
course, cannot be attributed to the Iron Duke, though Cornwell
records those faithfully as well.) His curse is that he can't stop
writing. Cornwell is almost maddeningly prolific --- but unlike
other prolific writers, he is also incredibly consistent. SHARPE'S
ESCAPE is the equal of the other nineteen; there's no appreciable
difference in quality. Only the situations remain familiar. So if
you're reading SHARPE'S ESCAPE and think you might have read it
before, you may be very nearly right.

But if you haven't --- well, then, perhaps it's time that you
had.

SHARPE'S ESCAPE is about a campaign as stern and unyielding as its
hero. The British forces, in the early stage of the battle for the
Iberian Peninsula, are marching towards the safety of the Lines of
Torres Vedras, a great defensive bastion protecting the city of
Lisbon from invasion. Wellington expects the French to besiege the
lines of fortifications, and the best way to win such a siege is to
deny as much rations to the enemy as possible. Lieutenant Richard
Sharpe and his men are on a scorched-earth mission as the book
starts, seeking to destroy as much food as possible while herding
the local civilians behind friendly lines.

Sharpe's mission is complicated by a Portuguese major who is
ostensibly gathering information from the enemy and, not
incidentally, selling food to them --- food that coincidentally
happens to be owned by his brother. Sharpe disrupts this flow of
food and makes two powerful enemies. Additionally, Sharpe faces
opposition in his South Essex Regiment, as his colonel seeks to
promote a socially connected relative over his head. Add to that
the implacable hostility from the French forces contesting for the
control of Portugal, and Sharpe is arrayed against numerous --- and
familiar --- enemies.

That Richard Sharpe gets the better of his enemies is not to be
doubted. What makes the Sharpe novels so infectiously fun is how he
does it; how he manages to outfight and outwit those who would
stand in his way. Richard Sharpe is a thief and a rogue in search
of gold, girls and glory, but he's uncommonly honest about it ---
and immensely likeable as a result. Here, he's paired with a
lawyerly Portuguese officer and a prim English schoolmarm, and it's
not too long in their acquaintance before both come to Sharpe's way
of thinking about plunder, bad language and survival.

SHARPE'S ESCAPE is about survival --- survival, in this instance,
from a deadly trap and through two harrowing battles. The trap
tests Sharpe's resourcefulness --- and his stomach --- while the
battles test Cornwell's ability to make what's happening in combat
clear and understandable. The author writes with the authority of
one who has seen the ground, who has traipsed all over the sites of
Wellington's campaigns, and who knows what it was like to serve in
a nineteenth-century regiment and take on the legions of the
Emperor for low wages, short rations and mortal danger. Cornwell is
good enough at transmitting all of this that one wonders what he
could accomplish as a straight historian --- though he's far too
skilled as a novelist to lose.

There may be more than a ring of familiarity throughout SHARPE'S
ESCAPE, but for those who have read the prior installments, it's a
welcome sound indeed. And for those who haven't, it's an excellent
chance to take up the Baker rifle and the green jacket, marching in
the ranks and slogging through the mud of war with Lieutenant
Richard Sharpe.

Sharpe's Escape: Portugal, 1810
by Bernard Cornwell

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0060530472
  • ISBN-13: 9780060530471