Review

Sharpe's Havoc

by Bernard Cornwell



The surprising thing about SHARPE'S HAVOC has nothing to do with
its content. The content of the Richard Sharpe books --- this is
the nineteenth --- is generally the same. There is a mission, a
woman and an enemy for Richard Sharpe --- and usually a lot of hard
fighting along the way. SHARPE'S HAVOC is no different, which is
not surprising. There is a mission; Lieutenant Richard Sharpe must
keep his rag-tag band of Riflemen safe as they rejoin Lord
Wellington's army fighting the French in Portugal in 1809. There is
a woman; Kate Savage, the beautiful young daughter of an English
wine merchant, who Sharpe must protect from the ravages of war. And
there is an enemy; one Colonel Christopher of the Foreign Office,
who is busy sneaking around behind enemy lines, trying to arrange
for the surrender of British troops to the perfidious French and
makes the mistake of stealing Richard Sharpe's telescope.

But it is the setting that is surprising. The first twelve Richard
Sharpe books were all set during the Napoleonic conflict, taking
Sharpe from an anonymous quartermaster in northern Spain to a
battalion commander at Waterloo. The next volume, SHARPE'S DEVIL,
moved the action to Chile (which is where Patrick O'Brian's
Aubrey-Maturin series also winds up). After that, Cornwell authored
three books about Sharpe's early career in India and the two most
recent books dealt primarily with naval battles, of all
things.

SHARPE'S HAVOC takes us back to the Peninsular Campaign, filling in
a gap between the first and second of the Sharpe books. It takes
place in Portugal, right at the time that Sir Arthur Wellesley
(later Lord Wellington) takes over His Majesty's army on the
Peninsula and uses it to beat the living daylights out of the
French. The French invasion of Portugal has shattered British
morale and left Sharpe the leader of a small platoon of
green-jacketed regulars separated from the rest of the army. With
the help of stalwart sergeant Patrick Harper and an alliance with
an idealistic Portuguese lawyer-turned-soldier, Sharpe must protect
the girl, defeat the enemy and complete the mission, just as he has
done so many times before.

The challenge for Bernard Cornwell here is to return to the scene
of his greatest triumph and produce another book about the
Peninsular Campaign to stand with his earlier works (that, and to
keep his fingers from falling off from typing too much; there's a
second book in his new series about the Holy Grail coming out this
year as well). It's a challenge that he more than meets. Even
though the characters, setting and plot are familiar, Cornwell
manages to put them into new and tense situations. Sharpe and
Harper witness a horrific bridge collapse, defend a remote
mountaintop fort and lead the way for a daring British invasion of
a Portuguese seminary. The action scenes crackle with intensity and
excitement. There's even a heroic French officer leading the charge
against Sharpe --- Cornwell describes him as "Sharpe-like", a high
compliment indeed --- who emerges as a brave opponent, for
once.

Where SHARPE'S HAVOC falls short, compared to its predecessors, is
in its other two elements. The villain, Colonel Christopher, is a
weak, backstabbing little man, no real match for Sharpe. And the
woman, Kate Savage, is a little slip of a girl, caught up in
Christopher's cowardly embrace but saved by her sense of patriotism
and duty.

But all of this is subordinated to the pleasure that fans of the
series will take in seeing Sharpe and Harper together again,
marching against the French and fighting against terrible odds. And
for people who aren't yet fans of Richard Sharpe, SHARPE'S HAVOC is
as good a place as any to introduce yourself to a scarred English
Rifleman and his band of thieves, poachers and outcasts. Because
SHARPE'S HAVOC is a good read --- and that shouldn't come as a
surprise to anyone.

Sharpe's Havoc
by Bernard Cornwell

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0060566701
  • ISBN-13: 9780060566708