Bernard Cornwell's books are timeless tales of an anti hero bucking the system and using his smarts to outwit the folks who feel superiority is based on both wealth and birth. I have been reading these books for over ten years now, and Sharpe's struggle through the ranks, his courage and ingenuity have been entertaining as well as illuminating. The Sharpe series is about the birth of the modern British army. His battles scenes are told through a telescopic lens that places the reader in the middle where they can see the carnage, feel the adrenaline laced fear, the insecurities, as well as the stark realization that the commitment to his fellow soldiers is the only way out. Sharpe should not have been a success. He is little more than a criminal, running from a murder charge, can't sit a horse, borderline illiterate, yet he has a deep rooted sense of morality, a natural affinity for strategy as well as a six sense in understanding a situation, reading it and finding solutions. I love reading about the way he peels back the layers to reveal and then destroy the corruptness that sullies the noble ideals that are the core of his existence. I've learned a lot from the Sharpe books. Cornwell's crisp writing is clear and concise. Sharpe's Havoc joins a superior series about a superior officer and I do indeed hope he and Harper will march again.
Sharpe's Havoc is for long-time fans of Richard Sharpe who want to know about all of his fictional adventures. As usual, looking after the interests of the local British causes Sharpe lots of problems.
If you are reading these books in the order of the chronology of the events rather than the order of their publication, this book follows Sharpe's Rifles where Sharpe rises to command a small band of the 95th Rifles after his superiors are killed in the disastrous retreat from Spain. Sharpe has attached himself to a surveying team that is preparing maps for the British.
As the French prepare to capture Oporto under Marshal Soult, Sharpe is ordered to help locate a missing woman who may have gone to her family's country home. No sooner does he receive this order than it is countermanded by the shadowy Colonel Christopher who orders a retreat in the opposite directions. After receiving his orders in writing, Sharpe begins to retreat . . . only to find it's too late. There is no safe way out of the city. So he takes his men and they take their chances.
The scenes involving Portuguese people leaving Oporto are pretty gruesome. You won't soon forget them.
Eventually, Sharpe and his men (alone with some Portuguese allies) find themselves where the missing woman may be found. Once there, Colonel Christopher begins playing dangerous games at the expense of the British and Sharpe. He also misleads the woman into believing she is married (even though Christopher is already married). The consequences are fatal for many of those who rely on Christopher.
At the book's end, Sharpe and his men play a key role in the recapture of Oporto by Sir Arthur Wellesley (Sharpe's not-so-friendly friend in high places).
There are three battle scenes that you'll enjoy in the book. The various machinations of Christopher and Sharpe being caught in stasis don't provide for much interesting reading. As a result, the middle of the book (between the first and second battle scenes) may not appeal to you.
If you don't like to read about gruesome mistreatment of innocents, this book won't be for you. It's pretty explicit.
If you are a Francophile, don't read this book. The French army comes in for some pretty strong condemnation for its ways of "living off the land and the local people."
on March 12, 2004
It's always a cause for rejoicing to me when I have the chance to read a new novel about Richard Sharpe and his exploits in the Napoleonic era. These books are excellent reading, and you also receive a "ground-pounder's" view of the wars of that time. This isn't the elite "from the command post" view, but from the guys who actually did the fighting, up close and really dirty. The writing is first-rate, and the characters quite well drawn. The plots keep the reader moving swiftly, and the pages are turned with great anticipation. Just when it appears that the author may have exhausted the scenarios of the war years in his books, he gives all of his faithful readers hope for the future when he says at the end: "Sharpe and Harper will march again". That is fantastic news!
on May 11, 2003
The Sharpe series is 19 books long now, I think. Cornwell wrote several books in the original series and now goes back on occasion and adds episodes. It's a difficult task to write new chapters into a book already written. The chronology may suffer or the hero's past might not be acknowledged in his future. These problems don't bother me so much. This book, however, was a disappointment and I'm not sure why. Everything one would expect in a book by Cornwell is here: a remorseless villain, a damsel in distress, small skirmishes and a major battle. Maybe it's the fact we've travelled these roads so many times already and there's nothing new down there anyway. There can be no doubt of the outcome; we've already seen the far future of Sharpe.
Patrick O'Brien suffered this same sort of malaise in his Aubrey/Maturin series too. Maybe authors get bored with their own creations and cannot think of ways to inject new excitement and experiences in these set pieces. Perhaps Richard Sharpe needs a vacation in Bermuda or someplace. I can see the pirates and the women of easy virtue now...
on May 3, 2003
The surprising thing about SHARPE'S HAVOC has nothing to do with its content. The content of the Richard Sharpe books --- this is the nineteenth --- is generally the same. There is a mission, a woman and an enemy for Richard Sharpe --- and usually a lot of hard fighting along the way. SHARPE'S HAVOC is no different, which is not surprising. There is a mission; Lieutenant Richard Sharpe must keep his rag-tag band of Riflemen safe as they rejoin Lord Wellington's army fighting the French in Portugal in 1809. There is a woman; Kate Savage, the beautiful young daughter of an English wine merchant, who Sharpe must protect from the ravages of war. And there is an enemy; one Colonel Christopher of the Foreign Office, who is busy sneaking around behind enemy lines, trying to arrange for the surrender of British troops to the perfidious French and makes the mistake of stealing Richard Sharpe's telescope.
But it is the setting that is surprising. The first twelve Richard Sharpe books were all set during the Napoleonic conflict, taking Sharpe from an anonymous quartermaster in northern Spain to a battalion commander at Waterloo. The next volume, SHARPE'S DEVIL, moved the action to Chile (which is where Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series also winds up). After that, Cornwell authored three books about Sharpe's early career in India and the two most recent books dealt primarily with naval battles, of all things.
SHARPE'S HAVOC takes us back to the Peninsular Campaign, filling in a gap between the first and second of the Sharpe books. It takes place in Portugal, right at the time that Sir Arthur Wellesley (later Lord Wellington) takes over His Majesty's army on the Peninsula and uses it to beat the living daylights out of the French. The French invasion of Portugal has shattered British morale and left Sharpe the leader of a small platoon of green-jacketed regulars separated from the rest of the army. With the help of stalwart sergeant Patrick Harper and an alliance with an idealistic Portuguese lawyer-turned-soldier, Sharpe must protect the girl, defeat the enemy and complete the mission, just as he has done so many times before.
The challenge for Bernard Cornwell here is to return to the scene of his greatest triumph and produce another book about the Peninsular Campaign to stand with his earlier works (that, and to keep his fingers from falling off from typing too much; there's a second book in his new series about the Holy Grail coming out this year as well). It's a challenge that he more than meets. Even though the characters, setting and plot are familiar, Cornwell manages to put them into new and tense situations. Sharpe and Harper witness a horrific bridge collapse, defend a remote mountaintop fort and lead the way for a daring British invasion of a Portuguese seminary. The action scenes crackle with intensity and excitement. There's even a heroic French officer leading the charge against Sharpe --- Cornwell describes him as "Sharpe-like", a high compliment indeed --- who emerges as a brave opponent, for once.
Where SHARPE'S HAVOC falls short, compared to its predecessors, is in its other two elements. The villain, Colonel Christopher, is a weak, backstabbing little man, no real match for Sharpe. And the woman, Kate Savage, is a little slip of a girl, caught up in Christopher's cowardly embrace but saved by her sense of patriotism and duty.
But all of this is subordinated to the pleasure that fans of the series will take in seeing Sharpe and Harper together again, marching against the French and fighting against terrible odds. And for people who aren't yet fans of Richard Sharpe, SHARPE'S HAVOC is as good a place as any to introduce yourself to a scarred English Rifleman and his band of thieves, poachers and outcasts. Because SHARPE'S HAVOC is a good read --- and that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.
--- Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds
on April 30, 2003
Sharpe's Havoc is the eighteenth volume of Richard Sharpe's saga, but its time frame is early in Britain's Peninsular War against Napoleon, filling the gap between Sharpe's Rifles and Sharpe's Eagle. Despite large helpings of rape, pllage, and bloodshed, this reader did not find it very satisfying. Perhaps I've grown weary of the Supersoldier or perhaps Bernard Cornwell has.
This book tells the long-time follower of Sharpe little new about life in the Brtish army during the Napoleionic Wars, because Sharpe is on detached duty behind enemy lines in Portugal. For most of the story Sharpe and a handful of his riflemen hang out at the country estate of an English Port shipper. (Incidentally, if #1's critical discernment matches her knowledge of Port wine, readers should seek another guide) As in the recently published Sharpe's Trafalgar, our hero seems more witness to history than participant. Cornwell gives Sharpe plenty of derring to do, but it has a perfunctory air about it. His obligatory contribution to General Arthur Wellsley's rise to dukehood consists of finding transport across the Douro River, a service performed in reality by a Portugese barber.
The villain of the story, Lt Colonel Christopher of the British Foreign Office, is a more fully-developed character than those that have afflicted Sharpe in previous books. He is a charming rapist and traitor who directs French troops to massacre Portugese civilians to further his scheme for self-advancement. His worst crime, however, in the eyes of his colleague, the equally bloody-handed Lord Pumphrey, is that he's a thruster. "A thruster was a man who would bully and whip his way to the head of the field while riding to hounds...".
Neither Sharpe nor Christopher is as interesting as one of the historical figures Cormwell weaves into the story, Major Dulong of the French 31st Leger. Perhaps that explains what is wrong with Sharpe's Havoc.
on April 26, 2003
First things first: As Action&Adventure Novels Sharpe's are the best, get it and enjoy, nobody does it better.
Now, once said (for the sake of hurried people) the main thing, let's analyze this fresh one: As usual it's a turn page read as Clancy's best used to be, I got it and read as fast as I could and (I do not really know if for you this is a plus or a minus) all what I expected was there... (the main plot, the subplots, the historical frame, and of course all the predictable characters) and probably THAT'S WHY I LOVE THEM, the ambivalence of kowing what's going to happen but still enjoy the way it's crafted is of the same level of Conan Doyle's Holme's adventures... You know there will be an explanation, you know Sherlock will crack the mistery, and there will be a new one in the future... I think the joy of it is the confirmation of your expectations... (Keep the customer satisfied, and at this he's getting better all the time...+ the promise at the end: Sharpe & Harper will march again...).
The battle&skirmish actions are superb, due praise is given to portuguese soldiers and french (a welcome political correctness after so much british jingoism in the earlier books...) and as usual the good prevail (Richard Sharpe has less dialogue and it's at his laconic best in the true tradition of John Ford heroes THEY DO THINGS and don't even boast about it...
ONE OF THE BEST OF THE LAST BOOKS IF NOT THE BEST OF THE LAST SIX, A PITY I WILL HAVE TO WAIT A FULL YEAR TO GET THE NEXT ONE (AT LAST BACK IN THE PENINSULA WHERE ALL STARTED...).
A minor criticism why Father Josefa? there must be hundreds of portuguese male names better suited, this is a minor default wich probably would not annoy english speaking people, but for God sake! Mr. Cornwell has fans in other parts of the world who KNOW about spanish and portuguese names and places, have you ever heard about "globalización"?.
For future readers who will read in cronological order the works it will be difficult to believe the naivety of Richard Sharpe from "Sharpe's Eagle" onwards..., after the accumulated experiences etc. there will be a little distorted (no references to past love affairs etc...) WHY NOT NEW EDITIONS WITH SOME LITTLE ADJUSTMENTS IN THE TEXT? to be sure fans will love them!
WELL, ENOUGH SAID! GO GET I AND ENJOY...
on April 17, 2003
For long-time fans like me who found "Sharpe's Prey" a bit below par, I'm pleased to say that this one returns to first principles, ...-bashing in the Peninsula; and the author is back on form. If you wondered what happened to Sharpe, Harper & Co. after they joined forces on the retreat to Vigo (Sharpe's Rifles, Jan. 1809) and before Talavera (Sharpe's Eagle, July 1809), here's the answer. The Greenjackets are in the wilds of Portugal, where the best Sharpe stories are set, on a mission for Capt. Hogan, the military engineer and future spy-master. Marshal Soult, 'Duke of Damnation' and aspiring King of Portugal, is closing in. Is all lost? Wait! an obscure sepoy general called Wellesley has landed at Lisbon ...
I'll leave the plot there except to say that it's a ripping yarn (and I've been reading them for twenty years). We meet an upper-class villain fit to take on Sir Henry Simmerson; a beautiful, runaway heiress; and a young Portuguese officer of character and education who has a thing or two to learn from Sharpe. Deja vu? Well, some of the best vus are deja. There have been better ones than this but not many. The atmosphere is as thick as Dan Hagman's tea. There are passages of real sardonic humor, which comes as a relief after the last outing. The action sequences are many and unsurpassed. My only regret is that an old favorite, Sweet William, hasn't shown up yet.
The time slots are filling up but Cornwell makes good use of them. Sharpe and Harper march again. What are you waiting for? And if you didn't understand any of the above, still read the book.
on April 10, 2003
In 1809 in the Iberian Peninsular, though isolated from his side's main forces, Richard Sharpe and his unit defend Oporto, Portugal from Napoleon's armies. The city and the surrounding area are home to the famous red wine and numerous influential English red wine-exporting families. His superior Captain Hogan assigns Richard to keep safe the House Beautiful wine heiress Kate Savage and keep an eye on slick Colonel Christopher.
As Richard and his commandos perform their current mission, the French attack them. Portuguese irregulars led by philosopher poet Lieutenant Vicente save the beleaguered English. The two units consolidate heading to Kate's winery only to arrive, as she is to marry treacherous Colonel Christopher.
In his eighteenth appearance as a soldier during the Napoleonic Wars era, Sharpe lives up to his name, retaining a keen freshness as he battles the French and the bureaucracy. The tidbits from history, of which there are plenty, are brilliantly interwoven into the taut story line so that the audience receives a smooth plot yet know what is fact and what is Bernard Cornwell's vivid imagination. Anyone who relishes the era, enjoys war stories, or is a historical buff should read the Sharpe novels that bring in focus the realistic atrocities of battle as few novels short of All's Quiet on the Western Front has achieved.
on April 9, 2003
On a time line with other Richard Sharpe books , this one would fall between Sharpe's Rifles and Sharpe's Eagle : May 1805.
This highly entertaining novel has Lieutenant Richard Sharpe and his sidekick Patrick Harper battling not only the "Frogs" but a mysterious British officer Col. James Christopher , an operative of the British foreign office , as well as a deserter from his own company of riflemen.
The novel starts with Captain Hogan , Sharpe's commanding officer by default , sending the riflemen into the mountains to find a missing young Englishwoman named Kate Savage. It seems that Miss Savage has disappeared from her home in Oporto , Portugal , just as the French army under Marshal Soult is moving in to occupy the city. Hogan also asks Sharpe to "keep an eye" on Colonel Christopher for him. We are then introduced to Christopher as an arrogant and otherwise slimy member of the aristocratic English upper class who is in romantic pursuit of Miss Savage. As it turns out , the young lady in question is the heiress to one of the major Port wine producing lodges in Oporto. It also turns out that Christopher has other things than Miss Savages' best interests in mind.
In combination , Christopher and Miss Savage lead Sharpe and his half company of riflemen on a perilous chase into the mountains of Northern Portugal , skirmishing with the French army , and their lives emperiled by Colonel Christopher's treachery. Sharpe has made common cause with a young Lieutenant of the Portuguese army , Lieutenant Jorge Vicente , and proceeds to train the young officer and his band of soldiers.
The battle scenes are classic Cornwell ; Sir Arthur Wellsley arrives in Portugal and sends Marshal Soult packing over the mountains back to Spain , with Sharpe , Harper , and Lt. Vicente in hot pursuit of the now treasonous Christopher and Miss Savage.
In summary , a very well paced and entertaining Sharpe novel. There are no dull or flat spots (unlike some of the Patrick O'Brian "Aubrey-Maturin" novels I have recently read). I just started this series a few weeks ago ; I am now a Bernard Cornwell fan! No real warts on this one--5 stars.