Although this is the eighth book in the series of Sharpe book – going in chronological order, Sharpe’s Eagle has the distinction of being Bernard Cornwell’s first Sharpe book. He went back and filled in much of the history of Richard Sharpe at a later date – his time in India for instance which is referred to in this book.
This book is also of note as it’s the only place where Sharpe’s hair is described as being black – Cornwell didn’t mention his hair colour again in other books in the series, which is a good thing given Sean Bean is blond!
Well enough of the anecdotes about the book. What’s it about and is it any good? The story covers the Talavera campaign, during which the British army under Wellington entered Spain with the intention of capturing Madrid supported by the Spanish army. The story begins in Portugal with Sharpe’s company of riflemen being attached to a new regiment, the fictional South Essex commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Simmerson. The Colonel is proud and incompetent and he and one of his officers, Lieutenant Christian Gibbons are the main villains of the story. Gibbons is accompanied by a beautiful Portuguese noblewoman, Josefina Lacosta. The South Essex has the job of seizing a bridge on the line of march of the British army with the cooperation of a Spanish regiment. Due to the incompetence of both the Spanish and Simmerson the regiment is nearly destroyed by French dragoons and cannon. But Sharpe disobeys orders and manages to save most of the regiment from destruction. Not before the South Essex loses its King’s Colour. One of Sharpe’s friends – an officer of the South Essex dies, and Sharpe tells the dying man that he will capture a French regimental Eagle in order to take revenge for the loss of the King’s Colour. Thus the stage is set for the rest of the book.
The British army makes its way under Wellington to Talavera. Most of the rest of the action is the march to the city and the battle itself. There is a good deal of conflict between Sharpe, Simmerson and Gibbon – and with Gibbon Josefina is the main subject of that conflict – the love interest for the book!
I won’t say anything more about the story in case readers of this post haven’t read it.
So what did I think of it? I really enjoyed it. I’ve read other Sharpe books before and other novels by Cornwell, so I was familiar with the style and content of his work – and it didn’t disappoint. There’s plenty of action to keep you turning the pages, but although he’s sometimes accused of being a bit lightweight on history, I found that there was plenty of historical background and content in the book to keep me interested. The characters are well defined too – although some are a bit stereotyped in a way – you can see that they fulfil a function in the story for instance – such as Major Hogan who’s there as a kindly older father figure who tries to help Sharpe. But the characters work well and Cornwell has a knack of bringing them to life and making you believe in them.
Verdict? Heartily recommended!
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