This is the sixth book in the chronological coverage of the fictional life of the British soldier, Richard Sharpe. It is the first concerning the Peninsular war (the earlier books dealing with his exploits in India); so it is a good place to start.
Sharpe is a ‘green jacket’ rifleman participating in the retreat to Corunna during the winter of 1809, before the victorious French army invading Spain. He and his small company of men get involved in a series of fights and adventures, culminating in the assault on the city of Santiago de Compostela.
It is a fairly straightforward adventure story, with exciting fighting, some love interest and several twists and turns in the story. There is good quality historical detail, the fruits of evident diligent historical research on the part of the author. I did not find the characters particularly deep.
This book follows the chronological events in ‘Sharpe’s rifles’, culminating in the historical battle of Talavera. It was, according to the author, the first he wrote about this character, and was his first attempt to make money from writing. I did not detect any amateurism or gaucheness in the writing.
The comparison that must be made is with Patrick O’Brian’s epic series of books about Captain Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Cornwell’s books have more action, while O’Brian loves to dawdle over his story and delay the action in favour of character, conversation and many diversions. Cornwell’s books are good, but more ‘boy’s own’. Based on a small sample of two, I would currently come down on the side of O’Brian as my favourite.
But I am open-minded, and will read more in this series.