© 1987 Bernard Cornwell
Napoleon may not realize it, but his wars are lost. The English have achieved total naval supremacy, and are free to raid the coasts of the imperial hexagon at their leisure. Richard Sharpe, whose sturdy Riflemen are in part responsible for l’Empereur’s imminent job loss, has been dispatched on one such raid. His orders are to capture a small but potentially bothersome fort, and possibly wander over to Bordeaux, where it is said the people are clamoring for the restoration of the Bourbons. Alas for Sharpe, he is a pawn twice over; he has been invited to join the raid only so the bumbling generals in charge of it will have hope of victory, or at the very least a good scapegoat – and the generals themselves are operating on suspect intelligence fed to them by French counterintelligence mastermind, Pierre Ducos. When Ducos learns that the redcoats are up for a little raiding and Sharpe is with him, he takes a personal interest in not only rendering their plans moot, but condemning Sharpe to die. In short order, the good rifleman is trapped in France with no hope of escape but an American pirate who was to have hung for crimes against the Crown. Sharpe’s Siege distinguishes itself from many other Sharpe novels in that the military action is wholly fabricated; the raid he participates in never took place. Although the military scenes are full of excitement and explosions and the like, they take second place to Ducos’ scheming; there’s no doubt that Sharpe will capture the fort and then defend it against a host of embarrassed Frenchmen, but getting out of the greater trap is an altogether different feat. What I appreciated most about it was the mixing-in of naval action. Alas for me, there are only two more Sharpe books waiting – Sharpe’s Revenge, which is next, and then Sharpe’s Waterloo.