© 2003 Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe’s Christmas collects two stories which do the seemingly impossible, in honoring the Christmas spirit while simultaneously being action-adventure tales starring Richard Sharpe. Sharpe doesn’t lend himself easily to Christmas stories; he is not lovely or kind. He is a soldier whose battle-scarred face has frightened women, and whose rifle and cavalry sword have frightened men, from Indian to France. He is a wonder as a soldier, grimly effective, but dismally unlucky outside the killing fields. His attempts at love have met in disaster as his beloved ones die or vanish, along with whatever fortune he entrusted to them. And yet the Daily Mail asked Bernard Cornwell to write two Sharpe-related Christmas stories for them, and so he did.
The stories are not unusual in their Christmastime setting; the series has seen battles set around the Christmas season before. But while there Christmas was the background, here it is the abiding theme.In the first story, “Sharpe’s Christmas”, Sharpe is participating in the invasion of France, and caught between two forces of Imperial troops in a narrow mountain pass, some of them commanded by an old friend. In “Sharpe’s Ransom”, disgruntled Hussars break into Sharpe’s postwar home in Normandy and hold his wife and child hostage unless he produces the gold the evil masterspy Ducos framed him for stealing in Sharpe’s Revenge. After outwitting the dopes guarding him, Sharpe must effect a rescue of his family. Readers are treated to the usual elements of a Sharpe novel — desperate battles between riflemen and massed columns of French troops, small-scale action by Sharpe himself, plenty of humor (especially between Sharpe and his usual compatriot, Patrick) but with a Christmas twist. Sharpe creates a miraculous victory out of disaster out of nothing but cleverness, skill, and cutting remarks, but the discovery of an old friend allows him to act as an agent of mercy; in “Ransom”, he doesn’t take out the entire band of Hussars singlehandedly, but turns the crisis into an opportunity to win the trust and acceptance of the local villagers, who — being French — resent an English war hero taking up residence among them and taking as his mate a once-noble widow. Sharpe’s Christmas is as exciting, historically grounded, and funny as any Sharpe novel — but it’s also heartwarming. It’s positively touching. I thought it quite appropriate.