All of the Sharpe novels, not just the new one, Sharpe's Prey
, feature genuinely complex plotting in which the reader is kept engaged not just by a central conflict but by a whole host of subplots handled as adeptly as his main narrative. How does Bernard Cornwell maintain such a high standard in his tales of historical derring-do and danger? The genre is a touch overcrowded these days, but Cornwell is unquestionably in the upper echelons, with a consistency that must give most of his rivals pause. It isn't just the formula that makes these books work so well (high-powered, vividly described action, conflicted protagonists risking both their lives and careers, impressive historical detail), it is another factor that has distinguished the author's books since his early work.
The year is 1807; Lieutenant Richard Sharpe is planning to leave the army. Against his better judgment, he is persuaded to accompany the Hon John Lavisser to Copenhagen in what is essentially an act of political skulduggery: they are to deliver a bribe and (hopefully) avert a war. But with the French ensuring that Europe remains at boiling point, Sharpe finds himself protecting his charge against French agents and struggling to ensure that the Danish battle fleet is not used to replace every French ship destroyed at Trafalgar. Sharpe is a character we know well and like, and his customary characteristics (tenacity, bloody-mindedness) are well to the fore here, but, as always, the other characters are equally strikingly drawn: Lavisser is a splendidly complex figure, as are several of Sharpe's nemeses. But it's that wonderfully adroit orchestration of action and plot that keeps the pulse racing, with the bombardment of Copenhagen and the massive bloodshed resulting in a truly impressive set piece:
Sharpe, from his vantage point on the dune, could see the smoke wreathing the wall. The city's copper spires and red roofs showed above the churning cloud. A dozen houses were burning there, fired by the Danish shells that hissed across the canal. Three windmills had their sales tethered against the blustering wind that blew the smoke westwards and fretted the moored fleet to the north of Copenhagen.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
‘The novel has plenty of action sequences, plenty of well-researched historical titbits, but the true glory of the Sharpe books lies in their characterisation.’ Sunday Telegraph
‘All the perfect ingredients for an action-packed and page-turning read.’ The Times
‘What a very fine writer Mr Cornwell has become’ The Economist