Captain Richard Sharpe’s renegade ways leave him discarded by his regiment and waging a war against a private Portuguese enemy – one fought through the burning, pillaged streets of Coimbra.
Forced to retreat across treacherous terrain, the British army prepare vast defences at the Lines of Torres Vedras – their greatest secret and their last hope of stopping the French reaching Lisbon. And risking everything to re-join his regiment, and lead the army into battle once more, is Sharpe . . .
And so, I read some more Sharpe and slowly, slowly pick my way through the never ending reading pile. It’s a good job I like these books, for there’s still another 15 to go!
Number ten in the long running Sharpe series – chronologically – is Sharpe’s Escape. Set during the 1810 during the Portugal Peninsular War, continuing the long-running campaign between the British, their Portuguese allies and the French enemy. The first quarter of Sharpe’s Escape is dedicated to the battle of Bussaco and see’s Captain Richard Sharpe entangled in devious affairs involving turncoats, damsels in distress and incompetent British Officers. The rest of the novel follows the threads of personal vendetta’s, complications and general do-gooding and anti-heroing; – the usual affair for a Sharpe novel!
When reading a Sharpe novel, especially after the first few, you generally know what you’re going to get. A well described battle; which is where Bernard Cornwell really shines as an author. A terribly written female love-interest, sulking anti-heroics filled with a villainous baddy both within the British Army and without. I am happy to report that Sharpe’s Escape does nothing to break any of these conventions and offers a solid read in the Sharpe series.
Sharpe’s Escape sees the return of several familiar faces alongside the titular character. Sergeant Pat Harper, Major Hogan, Rifleman Hagman makes and appearance and its setting in stone the wider cast of characters. They are all wonderful to revisit and seeing them growing alongside Sharpe is a pleasure. There’s also the introduction of new characters; Lieutenant Slingsby, newly appointed officer to the South Essex Regiment, provides inner and outer conflict for the main character. Although, I must confess, Sharpe in this novel started off as a bit of a bore. He starts off in a sulk and this attitude stays with him for most of the first section of the story. It became a bit of a chore and I was glad that he got over his woes when he got to do some good old-fashioned soldiering!
There is a focus in the novel on the grittier side of warfare; the British Army are decimating the lines of Portugal so that the invading Army is left with nothing. Food is scarce and in light of this the French are absolutely depraved. In the wake fo the Battle of Brussaco their attention is turned to the University Town of Coimbra. Cornwell doesn’t pull his punches when describing the events of Coimbra’s sacking, bringing a whole new level of darkness to the series; normally scenes of sacking, rape and post-battle opulence are kept to a minimum, but here, no such bars are held. Cornwell aimed to depict the depravation of the French Army and does with an unsympathetic and expert touch.
Now, the love interest. I’ve stated in each of my Sharpe reviews that this is a weakness for Cornwell and it continues to be a problem. Part of Sharpe’s afforementioned sulk is due to the fact that his leave was cancelled early and he couldn’t spend his month off between the sheets of Josefina. Or Teresa. Thus, when he is caught behind enemy lines in Coimbra and meet’s Sarah, well, all though of the old women are long forgotten and he wants to spend his time with Sarah. A more promiscuous protagonist I have not yet met! And, of course, Sarah falls hand over heart for the rugged Captain, while in a sewer. Of all gross places. You have to laugh, cause if you don’t you’ll end up taking the Sharpe romantic sub-plots seriously!
Alongside the romantic sub-plots there’s also the murder-sub plot. Sharpe thwarts a double-crossers plans and they vow revenge on the Captain. Again, nothing overly ground breaking in terms of Sharpe novels, but it’s a lot of fun seeing various men get their thumps throughout the novel. It all makes for an easy, entertaining read.
What I always like about the Sharpe novels is the Historical Notes at the back where Cornwell talks about the truth (or not) behind the stories that he has written. Detailing the accuracies and inaccuracies about the story. This is present once again in Sharpe’s Escape and it’s always astounding to read about the truth that has inspired the fiction. Galling as it may be in the case of Coimbra and its terrible fate.
If you’re new to the series, than you can absolutely read Sharpe’s Escape as a stand-alone novel. I wouldn’t recommend it and eagerly point anyone to the chronological order of the series. However, if you have no choice, then Sharpe’s Escape isn’t the worst place to start the series; just be aware that what you get here is what you’ll get in the rest of the series. A good, entertaining, sensationalism filled read with an anti-hero that spends a lot of his time sulking about woman, beating people up and, yes, still using the word Bastard.
It’s a Sharpe novel! We’ve got a cut and paste novel synopsis of, a large-scale battle between the English and French. A small scale battle between the titular hero and some personal enemies, be them within the army or trying to double-cross it. And we have the worst thought out female characters ever committed to paper involved in a laughable romantic sub-plot. But, they’re an easy, entertaining read that promises a good, fun piece of sensationalism.
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