Sharpe’s Havoc – Bernard Cornwell

Title: Sharpe’s Havoc
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication date: 7th April 2003
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Source: Private Collection
Series: Sharpe

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A small British army is stranded when the French invade northern Portugal and Lieutenant Richard Sharpe meets the future Duke of Wellington.

Sharpe is stranded behind enemy lines, but he has Patrick Harper, his riflemen and he has the assistance of a young, idealistic Portuguese officer.

When he is joined by the future Duke of Wellington they immediately mount a counter-attack and Sharpe, having been the hunted, becomes the hunter once more. Amidst the wreckage of a defeated army, in the storm-lashed hills of the Portuguese frontier, Sharpe takes his revenge.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Imagine my outrage when I realized that this book came before the previous book I read in the series. I tried my best to read them in chronological order, but came unstuck and got it wrong! Still, it didn’t detract from the story within.

Sharpe’s Havoc is the 7th book in the Sharpe series chronologically but was written many years after the previous novel, Sharpe’s Rifles, and the one that came after, Sharpe’s Eagle. However, it slots in rather nicely with the events and as with all the Sharpe novels, it can be read just fine as a stand-alone novel.

Set in Portugal, 1809, Lieutenant Richard Sharpe of the 95th Rifles is tasked with rescuing a beautiful Englishman and keeping an eye on a closely connected Colonel Christopher that isn’t quite all he seems. While on the search for the missing wine-merchants daughter Sharpe and his men are trapped behind enemy lines and thrust into a web of intrigue while the French decimate Oporto before trying to claim the rest of Portugal. Along the way, Sharpe befriends former lawyer; Lieutenant Vicente, and together they go about their orders while attempting to survive the war surrounding them.

The invasion of Portugal is in full swing in this novel and it’s great to read something a little bit different from the usual norm of Bernard Cornwells Sharpe series. While there’s nothing lacking in the sensationalism of this book it does have a slightly different feel to the other novels I have read. For one, there’s no epic scale battle in which Sharpe is involved; there’s bravado and fighting, obviously, but the scale certainly feels cut back compared to the epic field-battles of the other novels; it gave for a more intimate read where the characters were concerned. We get to know more about Sergeant Harper through the tales he retells about his native Ireland and the development of the characters within Sharpe’s Rifleman unit feel like they’re being fleshed out for the better. The reoccurrence of familiar faces helps to solidify the series and it’s a joy to feel a sense of connection to the characters; at times there’s a real sense of peril for some of them and with that comes a feeling of dread – a sign that the minor characters aren’t just there to prop up the main character and have a purpose of their own, something that has felt somewhat lacking in the series prior to this book.

Despite the fact that the plot premise of Sharpe’s Havoc is the rogueish Lieutenant having to find a beautiful Englishwoman, I am relieved as all heck that there wasn’t another convoluted romantic sub-plot. These have become a major part of the series thus far and the lack of it here was like a breath of fresh air. For once, Sharpe didn’t fall head-over-heels in romantic love and the story felt so much better for it! With the lack of romantic interest, the aforementioned minor characters played a bigger role and the novel came across as much more rounded.

While I rate this book highly overall, there are a few things that I had grievances for. There seemed to be a fair amount of reiterating the same point multiple times. The explaining of a nickname happens on more than one occasion, or the reason behind a certain element of the novel. I found this rather jarring as a reader, thinking “I’ve already been told/shown this.” What I have admired in previous novels in the series is the absolute hatred that Cornwell can inspire in the reader towards certain individuals. Sadly, compared to previous novels, I did find the villain in Sharpe’s Havoc to be dull. Whilst trying to weave a web of intrigue around himself, he just came across as a meddling idiot – his ploys were thinly veiled and uninspiring, leaving him rather flat. The treasonous British Officer trope isn’t this highest level of imagination and at this point, I’d much rather see the characters slogging it out on the battlefield than deal with convoluted intrigue. My other gripe for the novel is the fact that so very little seems to happen for a vast proportion of it. Sharpe whittles away his time in the manor house of Miss Savage, while the war wages on around him.

Yet, I still enjoyed the book and found it a highly entertaining page-turner. It’s nice to come back to the Sharpe novels and get a consistently good read. I feel like any teething fears for the series and genre are well behind me and I can just sit back, relax and enjoy a darned good read. Filled with heroism, sensationalism, and awe-inspiring feats. In Sharpe’s Havoc, former poacher, Hagman steals the show with an uncannily good rifle shot!

As always, the Historical Note at the end of the novel, detailing whose thunder Sharpe and his Riflemen stole is well worth the read. Giving more historically accurate details to the events that the novel details fictionally. As well as imparting knowledge of the real people involved, there are also details of the modern-day cities in which the novel is set; or if they even existed at all.


The Sharpe series has been consistently good for me. All the books thus far are rated between 4 and 5 stars, so I doubt I’ll be leaving this series any time soon. Glad to feel like I am at the true heart of the series now, where more characters are becoming fleshed out and as enjoyable as the titular character.

2 responses to “Sharpe’s Havoc – Bernard Cornwell”

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