Sharpe’s Escape

Written by Bernard Cornwell
Review by Wendy A. Zollo

Richard Sharpe and the venerated, dutiful Pat Harper return in a finely honed and sometimes satirical fashion in Cornwell’s twentieth Sharpe novel.

The year is 1810. The French are still endeavoring to crack the British hold on Portugal, and Sharpe faces the possible loss of the South Essex to a well-influenced, inferior officer. And, in his ever charming way, he has made yet another hot-tempered, indecorous adversary – Ferragus, a Portuguese rogue who has devised a way to ingratiate himself with the French. The conflict between the two men is furious, compelling and so boorish it borders on the humorous at times!

Cornwell has an astonishing gift for writing about battles. The Battle of Bussaco draws the reader to the point of tasting the gunpowder each time the Rifleman reload, smelling the stench of death, seeing the smoke from the cannons, and watching a foggy mist lift to reveal the fallen, massacred bodies. We experience what Sharpe and his men endure because Cornwell spares us nothing.

Sharpe’s Escape is spiced with slices of humor – the most outrageous scenes take place in an underground sewer – and slivers of reality, of funereal absurdity that could only take place under the circumstances of war. Sharpe’s Escape is a fitting addition to this long-running series. It can also be read as a standalone, though why anyone would wish to miss out on any of Richard Sharpe’s escapades would be a mystery in this reviewer’s eyes.