Thursday, August 29, 2013
Bernard Cornwell's SHARPE'S FURY
At any rate, Sharpe's Fury is, well, another Sharpe novel, in which much the sort of thing that happens in other Sharpe novels, happens again. He survives the nearly fatal incompetence of yet another highly placed British officer and manages to distinguish himself in doing so. He gets suckered into a decidedly non-military assignment on which, potentially, the fate of the Peninsular War depends. He meets a pretty woman of loose morals at just the right between-lovers moment to enjoy her usually expensive favors for free. He earns grudging admiration and gratitude and makes new enemies. He ruffles allied feathers. He is Richard Sharpe in a Richard Sharpe novel.
The fun here is largely in the side plots, which in this novel take place largely in and around boats, as befits its overall setting of the Spanish city of Cadiz, one of Europe's oldest cities, almost completely surrounded by the sea, its inhabitants desperately afraid that their British allies are going to make it into another Gibraltar. Well, most of them are afraid; some of them are more concerned about fanning that fear for their own political ends, whether they be to make of Spain a throwback autocratic monarchy/theocracy or to liberate it as a republic (with or without the help of Napoleon) or to continue to enjoy its current state of near lawlessness and profit potential.
Which brings us back to the main plot, which has Henry Wellesley, brother of the Iron Duke and British envoy to Spain in his own right. Unhappily married, it is he who first and primarily enjoys the favors of this novel's token female, only to convince himself he's in love, pen her some very indiscreet letters in which he tries to show off and impress her and thereby gives the Brit-haters of Cadiz exactly the kind of ammunition they need to make Brit-haters of the whole of Cadiz.
Guess who gets to try to buy, steal or destroy those letters? Hint: one of them carries around a non-regulation sword and rose up from the ranks; another carries a seven-barreled volley gun and actually gets to use it a bit. And, you know, the rest of their friends.
But that's all just the middle third of the book, which is bookended with, what else, battles. The last third, in a bit of a departure for the Sharpe novels, is rather light on scenes that actually feature Sharpe, as even Bernard "I put my infantry bastard at Trafalgar" Cornwell had trouble working his hero into the Battle of Barrosa. Suffice it to say that while Sharpe was playing spy/thief, the rest of the British are channeling Buttercup's beloved: "We are men of action; lies do not become us."
Again, history knowledge acts as a spoiler for this stuff, so I'm proud of myself for avoiding that Wikipedia article until just now. And again, well, the Spanish do not come off so well, perhaps even worse than the last time they let their British allies down. Still, I have a new hero about whom I wish to learn more in Sir Thomas Graham. Wow, that guy.