Top critical review
A Rousing Account of the Battle of Barrosa Preceded by a Weak Beginning and Middle
on March 30, 2009
I would tell you to skip this book, but you deserve to read the wonderful story of the Battle of Barrosa which the British won single-handed against horrible odds while the Spanish troops rested nearby. In the real-world history of the Peninsular Wars, this was the occasion when the British first claimed a French Eagle.
Before that, the book opens with a sequence where Sharpe is treated badly by a new foil, Brigadier Moon, who doesn't want any competition for credit from Sharpe. Naturally, it all comes apart and Sharpe has to save the day . . . but at what cost to his pride and to himself?
Eventually, Moon, Sharpe, Sergeant Harper, and a few men reach Cadiz, which is the tiny remnant of Spain that is not under French dominion. The Spanish expect Cadiz to fall soon to the surrounding French, and British influence is at a low ebb. Further problems arise when the British ambassador (Lord Wellington's younger brother, Henry Wellesley) finds himself being blackmailed and embarrassed by some letters he wrote to a woman he believed to be a Spanish lady, but who was not. Sharpe is pressed into temporary duty to pay the blackmailer. If that doesn't work, he's expected to steal the letters. The intrigue involves the future of Spanish politics as well as British-Spanish relations.
The opening sequence ends up being more interesting than it starts, but Brigadier Moon is more of an annoyance than a real threat to Sharpe . . . which undercuts the power of the story. The intrigue in Cadiz would be good if this were primarily a spy series, but it's not. So the intrigue mostly distracts from the opportunity to write more about the Battle of Barrosa, which is a far more interesting tale.
Sometimes authors can try to be too clever and hurt their books. I fear that's what Mr. Cornwell did here.
If you find your interest waning in the beginning or middle, just skip ahead to the part where the British and Spanish leave Cadiz by sea to attempt to attack the besieging French from behind.