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Many people compare the Hornblower books to the Sharpe novels and vice versa. The two series have little in common other than covering similar time periods in British history, one from the naval and the other from the military perspective. As his name suggests, Sharpe is quick-witted and as adaptable as a Swiss army knife. Hornblower is more cerebral and comfortable in his officer's role. Sharpe is initially a fish out of water when leading his men, and he knows it.

If you are like me, you've been reading these books in the order of the events they portray (rather than the order of publication). From that perspective, Sharpe's Rifles is the sixth in chronological order of events.

Since Sharpe was raised to be an ensign by saving the life of Sir Arthur Wellesley as the Battle of Assaye, he's been struggling. The Scottish regiments in India didn't want him because he is English. Posted to the 95th Rifles in England, the officers don't want him because he's not a gentleman born and the men don't respect him for the same reason. But he's seen as valuable in a quartermaster role where he can keep an eye on the tricks that soldiers use to fiddle the stores. Sharpe is a good quartermaster, but he wants to fight instead.

In Sharpe's Rifles, Sharpe comes unexpectedly to command a small group of the 95th Rifles during a disastrous retreat from the victorious French. He decides to take his men to Lisbon to find transport, but the men plan to head north instead. Immediately, Sharpe's authority is challenged and he fights back the only way he knows how . . . with his fists. Into that perilous moment steps a Spanish grandee, Major Blas Vivar, who persuades Sharpe to join forces with his cavalry troops who are carrying a mysterious chest to Santiago de Compostela. What's in the chest? It must be valuable because the French have dispatched a lot of troops to get it.

Trekking in miserable weather over the mountains in winter, Sharpe comes to respect Vivar who helps Sharpe learn how to command. Their alliance is sundered when Sharpe learns that Vivar hasn't been telling the truth about certain things. It doesn't seem to matter when Sharpe learns that the French have taken Santiago de Compostela. There's no point in going there!

Sharpe's life is further upset by running into a family of English Methodists who are trying to convert the "heathen" Catholics to their Protestant faith without much success and demand Sharpe protect them from the French. Sharpe isn't excited about acceding to this demand, but he can't help but be drawn to their young niece who is flirtatious.

Before long, Sharpe is involved in matters that seem more relevant for Don Quixote than for the 95th Rifles as he joins an idealistic crusade to strike a symbolic blow for Spain. From there, it's great fun . . . among the best of the Sharpe novels. Bernard Cornwall has taken a lot of license with history here, and it makes for good story telling.

Fans of Sergeant Harper in the later novels will be thrilled to find out how he became a sergeant in this book.

I suspect this book will be one of your favorites in the series.
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on September 1, 2003
Sharpe's Rifles is the book in which Sharpe gets his first command. It's the bringing together of two characters that will see the peninsular wars to an end. Sharpe meets Harper for the first time in this book, and it not what I expected. It is however a great tale of how the two soldiers came together.
This book puts Sharpe in Spain, during the British retreat towards Corunna. This is a dark point for the British in the peninsular wars when French victory seems not so far off. Sharpe, while second in command of a detachment of riflemen cut off from the main British force, is soon to face the most challenging point of his career. Sharpe has to learn quickly when his commander gets killed and leaves him in charge. He needs to earn the respect of his men and lead them to victory. It's a great story and a great look at how Sharpe came to be so admired by his men. This book starts of many of the features that make the Sharpe series so great, it's a must read for all Sharpe fans.
4 Stars.
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on November 11, 2002
Another fine book. Writer's like Cornwell, of which there are few, never cease to amaze. Prolific yet always profound. Dramatic yet believable. Characters at once unstoppable yet also fallible. Stories fictional yet grimly realistic. And he always pays a mind to the ladies. In this one I read quite amused as the central female character, an English girl separated from her overbearing Protestant missionary aunt and thrust into Sharpe's willing care, goes on and on to the hardened but smitten Sharpe about her love interests, while the screams of dying men echo about the city. Sharpe, heartbroken and shocked from not being the chosen one, shows his human side and heads off to get drunk and find cheaper love. This amidst the aftermath of another vicious battle.
The author is so savvy and such a subtle teacher and so infinitely wise to the ways of men and women and life in this world, that you find his works not only entertaining but also instructive. You learn when you read his books. Sharpe is the ultimate warrior in a gruesome campaign to rid the peninsula of the murderous and treacherous French. I find his work somewhat formulaic at times, but it matters not if there is always a mysterious and devious villain, an alluring and attractive woman, a great fighter, a stalwart and able companion and the willing and able veterans of his green jacketed rifles. If you haven't gotten into Mr. Cornwell's works, then I can only tell you that a gold mine of literature awaits you.
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on February 4, 2002
After reading a number of C.S Forester's Hornblower series, I realized the appreciation I have for historical fiction that contains a main character's development throughout that particular historical era. The Sharpe's series is just another superb example of this.
This book is the first volume of the series, but not the first chronologically in the series. I personally would have preferred to start with 'Sharpe's Tiger' which is where Richard Sharpe begins his career as a Rifleman as a Private. Then continuing the readings chronologically following his military career.
In Sharpe's Rifles, LT. Richard Sharpe (formerly known as SGT. Sharpe) becomes the commanding officer of a small detachment of Rifleman whom becomes separated from a retreating British Army in Spain. While retreating, Sharpe is confronted with the difficulties of adjusting to the role of an Officer while being harassed from a persistent attachment of French Dragoons. His difficulties increase exponentially when Sharpe gains a common ally against France, a small attachment of Spanish Calvary. Sharpe learns that the Spanish Calvary attachment is on a quest to reunite Spain's demoralization with a sacred item that must reach Santiago to give Spain one last fighting chance against the invading French.
The smell of smoke, the war cries of combat, and the fate of brave men are well embedded throughout the book. This is an action packed book, page-turner that I would recommend to all interested in this era!
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on November 13, 2001
This book is the beginning of the Sharpe adventures in Europe during the Napoleanic Wars. Sharpe must drag a company of British soldiers through French-controlled Spain, and in the process helps a Spanish nobleman achieve a miracle. There are two things that I really enjoy about this series:
1. Great historical detail and a superabundance of historical information. I've looked for other books about this time in European history, and there are surprisingly few. It was a fascinating time, when modern techniques were evolving, but when cavalry was still the most potent weapon.
2. Action, action, action. These books make me feel as though I've been slogging through the bitter winters and unordered retreats, and then forced into battle, where the smells of blood and powder intermingle. Kinda exhausting at times.
My only complaint with the series as a whole is that it sometimes leans towards melodrama, but, hey, sometimes that makes the books more interesting. People who enjoy the Hornblower series or Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin series should enjoy these if they crave a little land action.
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on August 2, 2001
Some nine books into his Napoleonic series, Cornwell pauses here to return to the beginning of Sharpe's association with the 95th Rifles. In 1809 French forces were sweeping the British out of the Spain in a full retreat to Portugal. Sharpe is a Lieutenant, and a lowly quartermaster at that, but through a series of mishaps and skirmishes, he finds himself in command of the tattered remnants of a Rifle Company cut off from the main British army. These men, led by the indominitable Irishman Harper, are demoralized, distrustful of Sharpe, and waver on mutinousness. We see his first clumsy attempts at leading men, as he tries to get them to safety. Their momentary alliance with a Spanish Major who is escorting a mysterious strongbox only leads to more trouble as the combined forces are dogged by a unit of French Cavalry intent on capturing the box. Of course, over time, the contents of the box are revealed and a thrilling city battle is fought. We also see Sharpe's first awkward falling in love, with the niece of some British missionaries (who provide some of the most comic moments in the entire series). It's a good prequel to Sharpe's adventures in the Peninsular Wars, and while it makes a logical place for newcomers to start the series, it might actually be more fun for those who have already gotten to know Sharpe and Harper.
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on July 20, 2001
Sharpe's Rifles by Bernard Cornwell is an exciting roller-coaster ride of battles and army life as seen through the eyes of Richard Sharpe, a newly made lieutenant in the English infantry. During the early 1800s most officers in the English infantry were of noble birth, however Lt. Sharpe, a former enlisted man comes from the ranks. He receives little respect from the men in his command and even less from his peers. The setting is in Spain during the French-Napoleonic invasions. The English (and Lt. Sharpe) are supporting the freedom fighters of Spain.
His army has been defeated and the French are pushing the English towards the coast of Spain and into Portugal. Through a series of mishaps he finds himself under the loose command of a Spanish Major who is intent upon flying a holy banner from a major city deep within the French area of control. Sharpe must win the respect of his men, fight an invincible French Colonel, and vie for the attentions of a beautiful English missionary.
I admit that I was a fan of the PBS series before I read the books. However, when you start this book you will have a hard time putting it down. Cornwell writes in plain English and his dialog is great.
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on March 20, 2001
If you have read other Sharpe books, you will realize right away that the story goes back to the time before "Sharpe's Eagle". It serves to set the stage and introduce the characters that will populate the series thoughout the campaigns in Portugal and Spain. If you haven't read any other Sharpe stories and you like Historical Fiction that are enjoyable reads you are going to enjoy it.
Don't get me wrong, as a story it stands alone quite well. Readable and entertaining are the first thoughts that come to mind. The battles/fights seem to be historically accurate as well as well written (not always the case with storied written about this time period). The characters are understandable, without appearing to be twentieth-century men being transported to another era. As Sharpe grows as a commander, you both empathise with his problems and cheer his accomplishments.
The whole series is worth reading, and this a great prequel to the timeframe where most of the action takes place.... and there will be quite a lot of it!
PS... The books are better than the BBC series.
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on April 11, 2002
Firstly this is an exellent book like all of the others in the sharpe series.It is hard to believe ,at the start ,that the Chosen men will one day respect and like sharpe,especially harper who really gets off on the wrong foot with sharpe,but will one day be sharpes best friend.sharpes objective is to find the armys missing banker,and is put under the command of major dunnet and captain murray who are both, along with most of the search party massacred by french cavalry, luckily sharpe and the chosen men survive.sharpe is left in an awkward position, with both other officers dead ,because the chosen men do not see him as a 'proper' officer.Fourtunately he joins forces with a group of spanish guerrillas, and finds he has another objective,to raise the banner of saint james to boost the morale of the spanish so they rise up against the french.
This storry is an amazing adventure and a great read and i'd reccomend it to any one!
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on February 6, 2001
I finally picked up "Sharpe's Rifles" months after having the series recommended to me by a friend. I wish I hadn't waited. Although I read a lot of military fiction, I have never read anything about the Napoleonic wars. Cornwell actually brings the battles to life, from the cries of the dying and wounded to the smell of the smoke of the battlefield. All of the cahracters come to life, and are exemplary of the kind of lives lived by the soldiers and officers of the era. It is obvious that Cornwell did his homework here.
Richard Sharpe is a well developed character, an everyman that developed not only into a super warrior, but also into a superb leader of warriors.
In this novel the author gets right down to the story, and wastes no time getting to the heart of the story. The writing is straightforward and clean.
Highly recommended
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