The seventeenth Sharpe novel sees Sharpe returning from India to London to join the newly formed Green jackets. Sharpe, though a little more comfortable with his new officer rank, is sure that this new unit is of lower status, and that he has failed. His ship home is shipwrecked: he is captured by pirates but fighting free with a few companions, finds himself on a British Navy ship heading to join Nelson's fleet. And there, in October 1805, he finds himself involved in the great sea battle, and discovers new skills in fighting on sea.
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For military-history buffs, Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels are the literary equivalent of potato chips: you can't read just one. And in this case, why would you want to? Blending meticulous research and old-fashioned entertainment, the series follows the roguish adventurer Richard Sharpe as he swashbuckles his way through the Napoleonic Wars. In Sharpe's Trafalgar, the author ventures into Patrick O'Brian's maritime territory. Anchors aweigh, lads, and bring on the detailed descriptions of the ship's guns and their firing mechanisms!
In the beginning of the book, our hero sets sail for England after five months of service in India. The plot revolves around a disguised diplomat, a marauding French warship, and an improbable love affair with a comely English aristocrat. But make no mistake, the real draw here is combat. The battle scenes crackle with energy, and we can practically feel the chop of the waves and smell the reek of gunpowder. (We can also smell 600 unwashed men in close quarters with rats, sewage, and bilge rot, but that's another matter entirely.) The last hundred pages fly by at a furious clip, cannons pounding and cutlasses hacking, as Cornwell re-creates the naval battle of Trafalgar.
These days, of course, we know that war is bloody and brutal, not honorable or fair. We like even our most appealing warriors to have some passing acquaintance with their dark side, and Sharpe does take a decidedly antiheroic stance on the experience of hand-to-hand combat:
He was ashamed when he remembered the joy of it, but there was a joy there. It was the happiness of being released to the slaughter, of having every bond of civilization removed. It was also what Richard Sharpe was good at. It was why he wore an officer's sash instead of a private's belt, because in almost every battle the moment came when the disciplined ranks dissolved and a man simply had to claw and scratch and kill like a beast.Beast or no beast, Sharpe is far more interesting and complex than the musket-wielding action figure he might first appear. And it's nearly impossible not to take some pleasure at his bloody exploits. Sharpe's Trafalgar is a superb example of the ripping good yarn--it confirms our secret conviction that war may be hell, but it's actually pretty exciting too. --Mary Park From the Back Cover:
"We've got the six carronades, sir, and they can throw thirty-two pounds apiece plus a cask of musket balls as well, which will make a Frenchman weep, sir. Or so I'm told, sir."
Richard Sharpe—soldier, hero, rogue—the man you always want on your side. Born in poverty, he joined the army to escape jail and climbed the ranks by sheer brutal courage. He knows no other family than the regiment of the 95th Rifles, whose green jacket he proudly wears.
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