Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sharpe's Rifles by Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe's Rifles (Sharpe, #6)Sharpe's Rifles by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Format: Audio (cds from Library)
Narrated By: Frederick Davidson
Original Publication Year: 1988
Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Series: Sharpe #6
Awards: None

I really enjoy well researched historical fiction particularly that which focuses on Regency Era England. I’ve read Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles, a trio of Arthurian novels, which I liked very much. I usually love anything the BBC finds of interest. For all these reasons I should love this series of books which focus on Richard Sharpe, a soldier in His Majesty’s Army during the Napoleonic wars. But I’ve tried once or twice to get into this series with no success. I decided to give it one more shot and thought perhaps listening to the audio might make a difference.

It didn’t. Partially because I did not enjoy the reader (he read Major Vivar like some kind of cartoonish deranged madman). But partially because I think these books are just not for me.

It is not because they are poorly written. Cornwell is an accomplished writer and the book focuses on one known historical event – the British Army retreating from Spain in 1809 – and creates his fictional side adventure onto it including a good level of detail of the time and the place. It is obviously well researched and provides a believable vision of life in the British Army and a portrait of its average soldiers. It is a very military book which is not generally something I love, however one notable exception to that is Patrick O’Brien whose books I love and whose Aubrey/Maturin series could be viewed as the naval equivalent of these books. The problem, if I have to put my finger on it, is a lack of charm perhaps? And by that, I probably mean, a lack of a compelling and likeable main character.

For the majority of the book Sharpe is churlish, prickly, childish, quick-tempered, easily offended, petulant, sullen and unfriendly … need I go on? Needless to say, I found him very difficult to like. Some of his character flaws could be explained by youth or inexperience but Sharpe is meant to be 32 and a long time veteran of the Army. By his behavior and reaction to things I’d have guessed he was 18 or 19. How can he be so completely clueless in dealing with his men? I did not realize that this was number 6 in the series and if anything this secured my dislike even more. If this is what he was like in book 6 than he wasn’t likely to improve. And he says bastard WAY too often. AND he “falls in love” with the first woman who speaks to him. He is a lynchpin for this book and I could not like him so the book fell apart.

I do have to say that I am usually a stickler for reading series in order so I feel a little unfair judging the series after jumping in at book six. However, my biggest pet peeve is series books that aren’t labeled with their place in the line-up and this fell into that category. So I am going to go ahead and be judgmental and say that this series is not for me.

How do you feel about jumping into the middle of series?  Any defense for the Sharpe series?

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