17 September 2008

Sharpe's Fury

Disappointed With Sharpe’s Fury
By Kristin Battestella

After all my Sharpe praise, I was a bit surprised by my dislike of Bernard Cornwell’s twenty first novel in the series, Sharpe’s Fury. By spending too much time on action and silly politics in the Peninsula War in 1811, Cornwall misses the mark.
After a prequel trilogy set in India, 2006’s Sharpe’s Fury returns the series to a gap in 1811. After being wounded by French Colonel Vandal, Sharpe has to put up with new Brigadier General Moon while recuperating in Cadiz. Sharpe and his riflemen are recruited by Britain’s Ambassador to Spain, Henry Wellesley, to clean up his adulterous scandal with a prostitute named Caterina. When Sharpe befriends garrison commander Sit Thomas Graham, he sets his sights on joining Graham’s campaign at Barrosa, hoping the battle will bring him close enough to take revenge on Vandal.
Sharpe's Fury: Richard Sharpe & the Battle of Barrosa, March 1811 (Richard Sharpe's Adventure Series #11)The biggest problem I have with Sharpe’s Fury is the misleading title. There actually isn’t very much Sharpe to be had, much less a furious Sharpe. Cornwell opens with a murderous Spanish priest. Not only have we seen this type in Sharpe before, Cornwell has to begin his story twice. I enjoyed the early chapters with Sharpe trapped on a wild Spanish river with Moon, but this adventure is abandoned for undercover operations in Cadiz. We never find out who the spy at the British headquarters is, we get one sentence of the crooked Spanish Admiral’s fate (I can’t even remember his name or find it online!), and it’s silly, but the book doesn’t end with the titular words as Sharpe traditionally has.

I enjoyed Richard Sharpe’s cloak and dagger work in Cadiz, but it seems as if we get three separate stories for the book’s three parts. Each one could have taken its time as one novel, but the battle of Barrossa does not play as a Sharpe battle, and its not even Cornwell’s best action writing. I had to keep looking at the maps in the front of the book to figure out who was who and where they were. We jump from theatre to theatre, hopping between the viewpoints of Graham, Browne, even French Marshal Victor for the last twenty pages. Every ten pages, we break the battle for a page of banter with Sharpe and Harper (and television add ins Harris and Perkins) walking along the beach, then its back to battle. A hundred pages of a battle in which Sharpe is not involved! And when he does finally arrive, the battle view still isn’t from his vantage. We get a lovely and detailed triumphant charge by the British, and I found myself asking, did Sharpe charge? Sharpe talks about being a soldier and doing what he does best, but we don’t get to see him do it, much less be angry and furious about it.
I prefer character driven novels. If I wanted to read about historical battles, I’d pick up a nonfiction Napoleonic book. We don’t have an epilogue in Sharpe’s Fury. It ends very abruptly, and Cornwell’s closing historical note admits he couldn’t resist indulging himself by having Sharpe in Cadiz. As a Hornblower fan, I find it ironic that with Sharpe’s Fury, there is now exactly twice as many Sharpe novels as there are Hornblower books. It’s as if Cornwell had contractual or writing obligations to complete Fury. If this were a first novel, I suspect Sharpe’s Fury would have a tough time finding a home or editor. Cornwell’s slipped into some very lazy writing here. “The Woman was… The soldier was…It was called Cerro de Busca, but he didn’t know that yet.” Instead of being in Richard Sharpe’s head with his thoughts and feelings and fury, I spent the last few weeks reading a historical tour guide from Cornwell.
Normally I feel sad when finishing a Sharpe novel and can’t wait to get the next book. Fury, however, seems to have lost its audience; I bought the audio book for $3, the hardback for $5. I was kicking myself when I saw the paperback for $2 in the Borders bargain bin. I heartily enjoyed the original Sharpe books: Eagle, Gold, Sword, Company, Enemy, Honour. But Cornwell has done the series a disservice by filling in his cannon with newer tales like Escape and Fury.
Sharpe is Sharpe and I will continue to read the series until I’m done, but I read because I like Richard Sharpe and his predicaments, not to be impressed by historical writing. Sharpe’s Fury has too much Cornwell and as I was struggling to finish I kept asking, “Where’s Richard Sharpe?” It was a disappointing read, and I have to take a break before I return to reading older, proper Sharpe novels.


Anonymous said...

I finished this book recently. I do not disagree, it was a really bizarre Sharpe tale which hit the formula marks of the series but missed the point of each. At least Perkins was a spyglass rest a dozen times throughout.

It was furious. It was Sharpe's Fury...ous. Meh.

Kristin Snouffer said...

Hi Tim!

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I'm finishing Rifles myself now, which still isn't quite on par as the original core set of books.

Fury just had too little of the series' good stuff, but at least there's better reads to be had inbetween.

Do also feel free to check up on the rest of the Sharpe reviews and analysis here!