As historical fiction goes, Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series lists amongst the very best. The series commences with the series’ protagonist Richard Sharpe as a mere private of the British army serving in India just before the start of the 19th century. There his story begins, as through his heroic and brave exploits he embarks on a monumental journey, making a name for himself and earning promotion to the rank of lieutenant. After his early experiences inIndia, Sharpe and the British army face a new and stiffer challenge in mainlandEurope, as they are opposed by Bonaparte and his military might.
As well as the new location, Sharpe faces a completely different experience in being amongst a gentlemanly class which is so different from him, and amongst people who resent and detest him as a social upstart. Yet Sharpe’s achievements don’t end in India, as over the course of the Napoleonic Wars he establishes himself as one of the greatest officers in Sir Arthur Wellesley’s army, promoting all the way to Lieutenant Colonel by the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
All of Sharpe’s adventures are portrayed in an imaginative and enthralling way by Cornwell, as the rifleman not only faces danger from his French enemies in battles across Western Europe, but also from sly enemies within the officer class. Cornwell vividly relates some of the major battles of the era, whilst cleverly demonstrating the social differentials and inequalities that were present in the early 19th century, thus creating an imaginative and captivating read.
Indeed this series is more than a simple fictional tale of battle. The journey that Sharpe partakes is not solely one of military life, but also incorporates his social and love life. Through his adventures Sharpe meets friends and lovers who will share his experiences, from jubilation and joy to heartbreak and despair, as he forms bonds which lead to companionship for life. However this is also a tale of making enemies, as not everyone takes friendlily to the orphan Sharpe, who against all odds secures success beyond his social stature
A thoroughly enjoyable read, the Sharpe series brings history to life, recollecting some of the greatest battles of history in a fictional and fascinating manner. As you progress through the series, you find yourself enrooted in Sharpe’s shoes, sharing his every emotion and pain, as he strives to serve himself and his country to the best of his ability. Cornwell truly is a marvellous writer, one of the leading figures in historical fiction, and I’d happily argue that the Sharpe series is his greatest work of all.