All of the Sharpe novels, not just the new one, Sharpe's Prey
, feature genuinely complex plotting in which the reader is kept engaged not just by a central conflict but by a whole host of subplots handled as adeptly as his main narrative. How does Bernard Cornwell maintain such a high standard in his tales of historical derring-do and danger? The genre is a touch overcrowded these days, but Cornwell is unquestionably in the upper echelons, with a consistency that must give most of his rivals pause. It isn't just the formula that makes these books work so well (high-powered, vividly described action, conflicted protagonists risking both their lives and careers, impressive historical detail), it is another factor that has distinguished the author's books since his early work.
The year is 1807; Lieutenant Richard Sharpe is planning to leave the army. Against his better judgment, he is persuaded to accompany the Hon John Lavisser to Copenhagen in what is essentially an act of political skulduggery: they are to deliver a bribe and (hopefully) avert a war. But with the French ensuring that Europe remains at boiling point, Sharpe finds himself protecting his charge against French agents and struggling to ensure that the Danish battle fleet is not used to replace every French ship destroyed at Trafalgar. Sharpe is a character we know well and like, and his customary characteristics (tenacity, bloody-mindedness) are well to the fore here, but, as always, the other characters are equally strikingly drawn: Lavisser is a splendidly complex figure, as are several of Sharpe's nemeses. But it's that wonderfully adroit orchestration of action and plot that keeps the pulse racing, with the bombardment of Copenhagen and the massive bloodshed resulting in a truly impressive set piece:
Sharpe, from his vantage point on the dune, could see the smoke wreathing the wall. The city's copper spires and red roofs showed above the churning cloud. A dozen houses were burning there, fired by the Danish shells that hissed across the canal. Three windmills had their sales tethered against the blustering wind that blew the smoke westwards and fretted the moored fleet to the north of Copenhagen.
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
The traditional military adventure yarn remains alive and well in the capable hands of Cornwell, as his up-from-the-ranks hero, Richard Sharpe, though stuck in the lowly role of regimental quartermaster, finds himself in the thick of the 1807 British campaign to destroy the Danish navy anchored in Copenhagen before the French can seize the ships and pose another invasion threat. As ever, the story starts fast, here with the murder of an English army officer in London by Captain John Lavisser a traitor working for the French and as vile a villain as any Sharpe has faced and scarcely lets up until Sharpe's final confrontation with Lavisser during the British bombardment of Copenhagen. Along with the swashbuckling action, Sharpe finds romance with the widowed daughter of Britain's top Danish agent, Astrid Skovgaard, who helps him get over the loss of Grace, the aristocratic young woman he met in his last outing, Sharpe's Trafalgar, but who died in childbirth. Much of the suspense hinges on whether Sharpe will quit the army and remain in Denmark, or persuade Astrid to return with him to England. Unlike Patrick O'Brian, Cornwell doesn't dwell on the details of early 19th-century life, writing in plain prose that neither evokes nor obviously violates period. This is the 18th installment in the Sharpe series (which now covers the years from 1799 to 1821, with a few small gaps). It's anyone's guess how many more are still to come, but Cornwell fans will welcome each and every one.
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--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.