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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sharpe's Trafalgar by Bernard Cornwell

Genre: Historical Fiction

Setting: 1805 in India and at sea.

First Sentence: "A hundred and fifteen rupees," Ensign Richard Sharpe said, counting the money onto the table.

This novel is chronologically the fourth in Cornwell's Sharpe series.

Cornwell's main character, Ensign Richard Sharpe, came up through the ranks.  He was awarded an ensign's commission due to his heroism in battle.  Because he has not been schooled as a gentleman, he is looked down upon by his fellow officers.  The enlisted men do not respect him  because he was once  like them.  Sharpe is determined to make his own way.  He is brave and treacherous.  He does not suffer fools.  And when someone has treated him unfairly, he holds a grudge, and takes his revenge when the opportunity comes.

In this installment of the series it is 1805.  England, France, and Spain are battling for supremacy of the ocean.  In the seas around India, the French warship Revenant has been been harassing English shipping.  The English warship Pucelle has been assigned to stop the Revenant.  Sharpe is on his way home to England.  Before leaving India, he helps the Pucelle's captain to regain some purloined goods.

Sharpe has booked passage on the Calliope, an East India cargo ship.  Traveling with him are several well to do merchants, Lord William Hale and his beautiful young wife Lady Grace.

As the Calliope sails eastward, Sharpe and Lady Grace  become attracted to each other.  Soon they are conducting a clandestine affair.  Unfortunately, fate intervenes.  The captain of the Calliope believes that England is doomed to lose the war.  He arranges to have his ship  captured by the Revenant.  In doing so, he steals his passengers prized possessions, including Sharpe's valuable collection of gemstones.  Also, Sharpe and Grace's affair has been discovered by Lord Hale's personal secretary.  The secretary attempts to blackmail Sharpe and Grace.

Eventually, Sharpe, Grace, Lord William and his secretary are saved by the Pucelle.  The Pucelle is pursuing the Revenant.  As they chase the Revenant around the Cape of Good Hope and north toward Europe, Sharpe and Grace continue their affair.    Just as they catch up to the Revenant, they find the British, French and Spanish fleets gathered for what will become the Battle of Trafalgar.

As the battle rages around the ship, Sharpe fights for his life.  Deep in the bowels of the ship, Grace  also fights to survive.  Lord William reveals to Grace that he knows about the affair.  The climax of the novel reveals who will survive this day of terror and treachery.

The last 60 pages of the novel describe the terrible sea battle that was Trafalgar.  The pages fly by as Cornwell's description of the fighting draws you into the battle.  You are there with Sharpe as he participates in the desperate struggle.  Sea battles of this time were not fought as they are today.  In this era ships fought side by side.  Sharpe battles in a hailstorm of musket balls, grape shot and cannon balls.  Cornwell's prose keeps you reading to learn the fates of Sharpe, his shipmates, and his lover.

In my opinion, "a real page turner" is an often overused phrase used in book reviews.  For me, I  found that this description of Cornwell's novel was literally true.

I enjoyed this book.  It was a real page turner.  And I highly recommend it.

Sharpe's Trafalgar

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