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A Hard Look at Ruthless Decisions
on 9 February 2009
Following on the heels of Sharpe's Eagle, Sharpe's Gold (the 9th novel in chronological order of events) plays on the darker side of "doing one's duty" of winning at any cost. During the early part of the Peninsula Wars, the Spanish army ceased to exist and a payroll for the nonexistent army is left in limbo. After a scout learns that the partisans have the gold, Sir Arthur Wellesley decides that the money must be liberated to help save the British army from defeat in Portugal.
After an awkward interchange where Captain Richard Sharpe (promoted from Lieutenant in Sharpe's Eagle) interferes with a provost who wants to hang one of his men as a looter, Wellesley tells Sharpe that he "must" get the gold. An earlier foray with cavalry failed, but there is a British officer watching the gold along with the partisans (guerillas). All Sharpe has to do is lead his few infantrymen behind enemy lines, persuade the partisans (led by the dangerous and suspicious El Catalico) to give him the Spanish gold, and then carry it back through enemy lines again.
Naturally, the challenge is even more difficult than expected. The scout who accompanies him is immediately captured by the French and Sharpe decides to rescue him. After that, the Spanish partisans claim the French have the gold and that the British officer has been captured. In the ensuing battle, Sharpe saves and becomes entranced by a most remarkable young woman, one who fights better than most men and is also very beautiful.
In the story, Bernard Cornwell brilliantly uses a real historical incident to present Sharpe with one of those "someone will die no matter what I do" choices that often occur in war. If you read this book with a friend, you can have some fun debating what Sharpe might have done differently.
The story is way too dark to be totally satisfying to Sharpe fans. Otherwise, it's brilliantly done. But it pales compared to the remarkable Sharpe's Eagle that preceded it.