Sharpe’s Havoc: Portugal, 1809
© 2003 Bernard Cornwell
“So what do you believe in?” Vicente wanted to know.
“The trinity, sir,” said Harper sententiously.
“The trinity?” Vicente was surprised.
“The Baker rifle,” Sharpe said, “the sword bayonet, and me.”
Napoleon’s armies command Europe, and now, in the late spring of 1809, they threaten to force Britain to abandon its fragile foothold in Portugal. The British army is in retreat, and one Richard Sharpe — commanding a small band of riflemen — has been caught behind enemy lines while on a mission to find and rescue the daughter of a wealthy English family. Our man Sharpe is of course resourceful enough to get himself out of any pickle, but circumstances are complicated when he bumps into a “Lieutenant Colonel” attached to the foreign office, who has a great many schemes and (Sharpe thinks) the legal authority to order Sharpe about. The colonel thinks himself a chessmaster, but Sharpe has his rifles and a few friends with which to survive the weeks of danger, intrigue, and treachery which lie ahead.
Within the last year or so Bernard Cornwell has become one of my favorite authors. Unlike Jeff Shaara or John Grisham, say, I don’t read him dutifully — but joyously. His books make me excited, and Sharpe’s Havoc is a fine example of why. Sharpe is thrown into a mess, but he survives the odds again and again through skill, wit, and not a small measure of luck. Dialogue is marvelous as usual — I do love the usual repartee between Sharpe, Harper, and Hogan — and once more we get an interesting villain in “Lieutenant Colonel Christopher”, a right weasel. Cornwell also shows off his usual gift for making the physical environment come alive. I think Havoc will stand out among the rest of the Sharpe series whenever I complete it, for like a few others it has an intimate focus: Sharpe and his men are alone, and I enjoy their solitary adventures more than accounts of large-scale battles.
Next in the series is Sharpe’s Eagle, but as I’ve already read that I’ll be moving onto Sharpe’s Gold.