© 1995 Bernard Cornwell
“You did what, Sharpe? A duel? Don’t you know dueling is illegal in the army?”
“I never said anything about a duel, General. I just offered to beat the hell out of him right here and now, but he seemed to have other things on his mind.”
Spring 1811, and Captain Richard Sharpe has gotten himself into trouble. At first he was merely lost, but when he stumbled upon a strange band of French troops dressed in grey and led by a man in wolf costume, he earned himself a mortal enemy. Brigadier Loup is a vile French commander who seeks to terrorize the Spanish population into obedience, using even rape as a weapon. This does not sit well with Mr. Sharpe. Cornwell’s heroes may live for battle and not think twice about punching priests who’ve got it coming, but as a rule they don’t abide rape. After Sharpe executes the offenders, their master Loup vows vengeance — and gives to our valiant greencoated riflemen something we’ve not before witnessed, defeat. Tasked with babysitting a regiment of Irishmen thought to be more loyal to France than Britain, and threatened with a court of inquiry for executing prisoners, Sharpe faces the death of his career. Salvation can only be found in a spectatular act of heroism, like the slaying of the Wolf, Brigadier Loup, whose ferocity has made him a legend among his English and Portugese enemies. Thus begins an exciting story with one of the most personal fights in the series serving as a conclusion.
Although American schoolchildren are taught the history of England, that history tends to leave off abruptly after 1789, and England appears thereafter only when foreign affairs make it relevant to American history. Thus, the Napoleonic wars are a complete unknown to many of us, and the Peninsular War which British children may be expected to recite facts about might as well be existent. Cornwell’s Sharpe series is essentially giving me my education in that regard, as I read his books and various historical articles for context. When the story picks up, the British army seems to moved beyond its safe fortifications and has tempted Napoleon’s eagles into battle. Sharpe’s duties don’t allow him a place in battle, but — being Sharpe — he finds his way into the thick of things regardless. Sharpe’s Battle focuses more on the movement of armies than other books in the series, and the villain is irredeemably evil, but admittedly interesting. He strikes Sharpe as a pagan warlord, holding a cross of wolves’ tales to inspire courage in his men and fear in his opponents’. Cornwell plays a wicked trick on the reader in turns of drama, leading Sharpe into what may be a desperate trap and then moving to Wellington while the reader is left frantically wondering “What will become of Mister Sharpe?!” Battle is intense throughout, and another solid hit for the series.
Next up: Sharpe’s Company.