Title: Sharpe’s Eagle
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication date: 9th Feb 1981
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Private Collection
Spain, July 1809
Lieutenant Richard Sharpe faces not only great danger on the battlefield but also, even more dangerous, treachery within his own ranks. But as the enemy approaches, he must pick up his rifle and prepare to lead his men against the French at one of the biggest, bloodiest fights of the war – the Battle of Talavera.
Out of the mist comes the roaring, undefeated army sent by Emperor Napoleon. Over their heads soar the Eagles, the standards touched by the hand of the Emperor himself. And boldly waiting for them is Sharpe . . .
It’s always a comfort to read another Sharpe book. They’re consistently good reads that follow a tried and tested formula.
Sharpe’s Eagle was the first book written in the Sharpe series, but number 8 in chronological order. As with the previous novel in the series I approached this one with a bit of apprehension. Being the first book Bernard Cornwell had written I wasn’t sure if it would be up to the same standard as the other books in the series. Spoiler Alert: It was.
Sharpe’s Eagle adds another chapter to Richard Sharpe’s life, another series of enemies (other than the French) for him to pit his wits against, another dubious set of heroics, and another woman on his arm! I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of the Sharpe books that they follow a certain set of tropes and rely heavily on heroic sensationalism. This book is no different. Sharpe is met with a brand-new Battalion under the command of Lt Colonel Simmerson – a proper officer and gentleman that has never seen true combat in his life. Naturally, he and Sharpe buttheads more than once in a highly entertaining manner that generally has Sharpe showing Simmerson where to stick it!
Due to Simmersons ineptitude, the company loses their Colours – The King’s Flag – and because of a promise made to a dying man it’s entirely up to Sharpe to restore the South Essex’s honour and capture a French Eagle; there’s more to it than just that of course, but don’t want to spoil the whole book!
There are some highly entertaining scenes in this book that are characterfully written; including a Spanish regiment getting scared by their own gunfire volleys – based on real-life we are assured in the historical note. As well as the introduction of the South Essex; a regiment fresh off the block, that Sharpe has to get into shape before Simmerson has them all flocked to death! Sharpe’s Eagle chronicles the events of the Battle of Talavera, a pivotal battle in Wellington’s campaign against Napoleon. Along with the South Essex, Simmerson brings along some dubious Lts; who get entangled with Shape in a very personal matter – the woman.
I’ve heavily criticized Bernard Cornwells ability to write woman and Sharpe in a relationship with them. Sharpe’s Eagle is no different from the rest of the Sharpe series in this respect. Josefina serves as motivation for Sharpe to better himself in the army and earn some coin – so that he can keep an expensive woman. However, things don’t turn out well and they get a bit dark in terms of what she endures adding a sub-plot of revenge alongside the impending battle. I felt somewhat conflicted with this sub-plot as it, rightfully, dominated Sharpe’s thoughts. His entire life, at that moment, was wrapped in committing bloody murder – on the eave of battle. A battle in which he must already do the impossible; capture an Eagle from the French. Poor Sharpe, his mind was all over the place. However, it is his woman that these atrocities happen to and not once do we ever hear about it from her perspective; if anything she vapidly moves on from Sharpe and onto the next man, just like all the other women in his life.
Sharpe’s Eagle sees the return of some characters that we’re introduced to in novels earlier on in the series. Captain Hogan, Lt Lawford, Sir Arthur Wellesley and Sergeant Harper. These characters support, encourage, and generally make life that bit easier for Sharpe. Considering his new enemy, Simmerson has an ear back in Westminster, that’s most likely a good thing. We see the camaraderie between Sharpe and Harper develop and it’s great to see Sharpe have such a steadfast and loyal friend – again, it’s hard to believe this is the same author that struggles to write Sharpe in a relationship with a woman!
This was the first book in which I felt that Sharpe was just that little bit too good. He was right all the time and although he has his own ways of dealing with the issues presented to him, it came across that he always had the right answer and was a bit too much of a know-it-all. Especially compared to those of a higher rank around him; Simmerson and the Spanish General. There is the distinct impression left of an ‘us vs them’ culture within the army and because Sharpe is the hero, he’s always going to get it right – yes, there is conflict within the book, in terms of battle and personal, but to me is just felt a little bit to easy for Sharpe somehow.
The battle and technical details were written in a vivid and easy-to-see manner; which is always something I appreciate when reading a historical fiction novel. Sharpe’s Eagle paints the setting with a casual ease that’s only getting easier to see as the books progress through the series.
Another great story from Bernard Cornwell. Maybe I am saying that because it’s pretty much the same formula as all the other books in the series. Memorable characters. Daft heroics. Not enough use of the word bastard compared to other books… maybe I should have knocked a star off for that!