Friday, December 30, 2011

Sharpe's Enemy

Sharpe's Enemy: Richard Sharpe and the Defense of Portugal, Christmas 1812
© 1984 Bernard Cornwell
351 pages

It's Christmastime, but winter quarters don't exist for Richard Sharpe,  our tall, scar-faced soldier-turned-officer with flint in his eyes. Deserters from the Spanish, Portuguese, British, and French armies have banded together and are terrorizing the countryside, causing considerable friction between the British army and the Spanish themselves. To make matters worse, the renegades have taken a number of royal ladies prisoner and are holding them hostage...and among the leaders of the renegades is Obadiah Hakeswill, a truly despicable creature whose main activities are rape, theft, and escape. Sharpe sets forth with his Rifles to rescue the hostages with a bit of derring-do, but bumps into the French army along the way -- and while they also intend to rescue their own hostages from Hakeswille, the Imperial troops also have other things in mind this Christmas season...

Sharpe's Enemy has all the elements that make for an excellent Sharpe novel --  the action is small in scale, but intense, with Sharpe and his rifles engaged in action first against a castle of blackguards and then an entire French army.  The enemy is an old, familiar, and thoroughly hatable one. The only fictional character whose grisly death I've longed to read more than Hakeswill would be Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter novels. The stakes are high -- the lives of innocents and the potential progress of the allied army in 1813 --  and Sharpe has to contend with idiot aristocrats to boot. It is indeed a rollicking good read...but the ending spoiled things for me. What should have been a gloriously satisfying moment for Sharpe is ruined by late-game action, and that same action threw me off, as well. On the bright side, Cornwell introduced a French intelligence officer with a lot of potential -- and he's supposed to make an appearance in my next Sharpe read, Sharpe's Honour.

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