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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 January 2005
The twentieth Sharpe book contains everything fans of the series have come to expect from Cornwell. Set in 1810, the story finds the British Army executing a strategic retreat from the overconfident French forces in Spain. Lord Wellington has ordered the land stripped of all food so that the massive French army will overextend itself and face severe logistical problems when it does finally engage the British. Sharpe is by now the Captain of the South Essex's Light Company but finds his leadership being challenged by the new presence of eager-beaver Lt. Slingsby, who has been placed there by the South Essex's commander, Col. Lawford (who happens to be his brother in-law).
Early on, Sharpe is out patrolling, and stumbles across some Portuguese and a cache of foodstuffs at a signaling tower. He destroys the supplies, per his standing orders, but not before getting into a vicious fight with the hulking Portuguese owner of the goods. This bruiser is Ferragus, an ex-pirate, ex-slaver, and all-around successful gangster whose brother happens to be a Major of Intelligence for the Portuguese Army. These two brothers fulfill the roles of Sharpe's arch-enemies for the story, while Slingsby and Col. Lawford form the usual army irritants. Following Sharpe's initial victory, Ferragus vows to get even, and finds his chance in the chaos that results when the British pull out of Coimbra just before the French get there. Sharpe, Sgt. Harper, old pal Jorge Vicente (from Sharpe's Havoc) find themselves trapped in the city, along with a beautiful English governess. The middle portion of the book is taken up with their adventures, as they evade their Portuguese foes and the French army. Lots of derring-do, trickery, and the usual bravery and close-quarters fighting. This leads to the final third of the book, in which Sharpe's little band escapes the city and races to reach the British army lines before both Ferragus and the French.
Meanwhile, Cornwell provides small glimpses into the activities of the British Army, which entrenches itself in a 40km-long chain of forts. Called the "Lines of Torres Vedras", they were built at great expense, and yet the French are completely unaware of them. Col. Lawford rather inadvisably orders Slingsby to place the Light Company as a picket on a farm below the forts, and ultimately all forces converge there: Sharpe and company, his Portuguese nemeses, and the lead elements of Marshall Massena's army. What follows is vintage Cornwell, as he simultaneously describes the large-scale fight of the Battle of Busaco, as well as the small-scale defense of the farm by the vastly outnumbered Light Company. It's great stuff, and the only regret is that after such rousing set pieces, and the meting out of just desserts, the book ends all too quickly.
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on 23 April 2013
One of the main problems in writing a series of books about the same character is the tendency to drop into cliched, almost automated, prose. I'm not talking about catchphrases uttered by the hero, they can become tiresome, but are acceptable. No, my objection is to essentially the same descriptive text or phrases appearing in book after book. The really great authors, like Doyle with Holmes, avoid this as a simple matter of technique, but Cornwell sometimes slips into such sloppy writing in his later Sharpe novels. In this book, he also seems to make a point of repeating every little historical nugget he has delighted us with in the past - to the extent that they become little more than padding. New readers will not mind this, of course, but I am sure that the majority of Sharpe readers have read several of the novels before, and don't need reminding in great detail, for example, that a ball for a rifle needs a leather wad round it to grip the rifling, otherwise ..... So, that explains the 'turgid' in the title.

What about 'gratuitous'? War is necessarily violent, often brutal - but the great writers don't fall into the trap of describing this in infinite detail - rightly seeing that it is part of their skill to leave something to the imagination of the reader - and to provide appropriate stimuli for that. Cornwell has verged on gratuitous in many previous novels, but has always managed to avoid the abyss - with considerable skill. Here, all to often, he simply doesn't bother. The battle scenes tell it like it is, in such detail that the tales of appalling maiming and death rapidly become boring. To make sure that you get the message that this author is truly hard-edged, he throws in a gigantic sadistic killer as well - relating in graphic detail how he literally beats a much smaller man to pulp.

On the other side of the scales, the account of the defence of Lisbon is well told and interesting, and the adventure woven around it is exciting enough. Even there, though, there are problems. The apparent personality change in the hitherto decent, honourable, and likeable Lawford is a little hard to swallow. And pitting Sharpe against yet another half-witted, arrogant, cowardly, but well-connected, officer is possibly one time too many. To an extent, the novel is redeemed by the excellent mini-battle at the end, it is tense, nail-biting stuff - as good a bit of action writing as any the author has created - and I can't tell you how it ends. You might guess, though!

So, how does this novel balance out? The fact that I give it 3 stars tells it all. Is it worth reading? - yes but, occasionally, it's a near run thing!
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on 4 May 2004
I am a big fan of Bernard Cornwell and all of his books; however it is his Sharpe series that i like the best, mainly because of the sharp action and deep historical detail. This is another good book, just like the last one, Sharpe's Havoc. There are enough battles and sword and bare-kuckles fights to satisfy anyone, and the description of the lines of Torres-Verdas are particularly fascinating to read, as there has obviously been a lot of reasearch done.
However, like the last novel, I get the feeling that something is not quite there that was in his earlier novels, as the action seems a little bland and is not quite as detailed, it seems. It may just be me, but unlike his earlier works, my favourite of which is Waterloo, I have not found myself rereading this book as I have done the others.
All in all, an exciting plot with a slightly obvious ending which has been done before -Sharpe's Honour and Battle springs to mind- and a little less exciting than the others, but still more than worthy of attention. Bring back Hakeswill!
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on 15 February 2006
Authors sometimes find that they have painted themselves into a corner by writing about a specific character over a given period. Throughout the 1980s and 90s Bernard Cornwell told the chronological tales of Sharpe as he progressed through the war and through the ranks.
However, after Waterloo and the war ending what can Cornwell do? Produce a set of prequels? Check! What about integrating new stories into the Napoleonic Wars during time periods previously ignored? Bingo!
Sharpe's Escape takes us back to 1810 and tells of Sharpe's run in with a dodgy Portuguese Major and his criminal brother. As a fan of the series the characters feel like family and the story rattles along at a good pace.
I really enjoyed this title, as a fan. However, I can see it being difficult for first timers as it’s not the strongest of Sharpe novels and no new characterization is offered. I also find it slightly confusing trying to remember what year and rank Sharpe is meant to be fighting in as each new book comes out.
For fans this is a must but for first time Sharpe readers I suggest reading them in Chronological order where possible.
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on 29 March 2004
I used to think that Sharpe had run its course and that after the Trafalgar novel came out, he should have hung up his boots. I was wrong.
Escape, like Havoc gets to the action, it seems, much quicker than some of the other novels and maintains it throughout the course of the story. No one can describe a battle like Bernard Cornwell and he maintains his high standard throughout this book.
A good storyline, if a little predictable with the "big bad buy" and the woman along in the sub plot, but none the less a great read.
Overall, another great outing for Sharpe.
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I envy all those who read the Richard Sharpe novels in the chronological order of the events contained in them rather than the order in which they were published. For these newer readers, Sharpe's Escape contains all of the best features of the earlier (in chronology) nine novels: an easy-to-despise implacable foe (Ferragus), a slimy traitor (Captain Ferreira), a spectacular battle (Bussaco) where all could be lost if Sharpe doesn't take the right action (a whispered aside to Colonel Lawford), Sharpe dropping in to rescue another impossible combat situation, lots of ill-gotten goods at stake, a beautiful woman to beguile Sharpe, a seemingly impossible problem for Sharpe to solve when he's trapped in the cellar to a warehouse, and justice for the dastardly types.

So what's it all about? Wellington continues to try to hold Portugal against the French. Napoleon has sent Marshal Massena with a huge force to drive the British and Portuguese off the peninsula. Wellington has well-prepared defenses waiting in front of Lisbon, but he wants to starve the French army as much as possible so that attrition will make the conflict short. The French steal food rather than buy it, and Wellington leads a scorched earth program.

As the book opens, Sharpe is grumpy. He's been called back after a week rather than the month's leave his was promised and Colonel Lawford has stuck him with a lieutenant he cannot stand, Slingsby. Sharpe doesn't see how any good can come of all this.

Sharpe is sent to destroy a signaling tower so that the French won't be able to use it. In the process, he discovers the Portuguese brothers, Major Ferreira and Ferragus, preparing to sell a lot of flour to the French. Sharpe and his men quickly put a stock to that, and there's soon a dusty hilltop covered with spoiled flour.

Ferragus employs his brother to exact some revenge on the eve of Bussaco, and Sharpe is lucky to survive. Sharpe is enraged to find that Lawford chooses to relieve him of leading the South Essex so that Slingsby can look good (they are brothers-in-law and Lawford has promised his wife to help Slingsby).

Afterward, Sharpe refuses to apologize to Slingsby and is once again turned into a quartermaster. The plot thickens as we find that Ferragus and Ferreira have compiled enough materiel to keep the French going for weeks . . . and plan to sell the goods to the French. Sharpe steps in to stop this . . . and things go horribly wrong. How will he survive?

This book is excellent from beginning to end. You'll have great fun with the story!
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Richard Sharpe, with enemies on every side, survives Marshall Massena,s attack and ends at the lines of Torres Vedras. Sharpe,s job as Captain of the Light Company is under threat and he has made a new enemy, a Portuguese criminal known as Ferragus. Discarded by his regiment, Sharpe wages a private war against Ferragus - a war fought through the burning, pillaged streets of Coimbra, Portugal,s ancient university city. Sharpe,s Escape begins on the great, gaunt ridge of Bussaco where a joint British and Portuguese army meets the overwhelming strength of Marshall Massena,s crack troops. It finishes at Torres Vedras where the French hopes of occupying Portugal quickly die. Soldier, hero, rogue - Sharpe is the man you always want on your side. Born in poverty, he joined the army to escape jail and climbed the ranks by sheer brutal courage.
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on 5 September 2013
Having watched the TV series I hesitated when a friend recommended I read the books. Gave the first one a try (chronologically, Sharpe's Tiger) and was hooked. Cornwell does this kind of thing to near perfection. Easier to swallow than Patrick O'Brien but still with a real historical basis and an appreciation for life in the period to ensure it feels real, factual and accurate. What he does best though is tell a story, keeping me (for one) hooked and wanting more.

This one may not be quite up to his best though, it feels shorter and doesn't quite dig so deeply as some of the others. Or maybe I'm just getting acclimatised to the format: subjugation by commanders who don't like him, danger of bad things happening, mission takes him away from the problem, danger, girl, danger, extreme peril, success, goodbye to girl, back to a mixture of praise and jealousy with promises of more to come sometime soon. Well, what more could a chap want in a book?

Don't pick it as your first unless you have no choice. Although they stand up as individual reads, there are references to earlier books and it makes sense, given the level of availability through Amazon, to start at the beginning and read your way through. Doing hat has been a delight and even this moderately plainer tome is worth all four stars.
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VINE VOICEon 22 October 2008
This is one of the best in the series to date. New enemies that really get to you, a heroin that you can picture. Have to say this book pulls you into Sharpe's world in a way that some of the others dont always, and your desire for Sharpe to defeat his enemy feels like the old rivalry with Hakeswill. Back to your best Cornwell!
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 24 November 2013
I have really enjoyed this Sharpe novel. The story is well told and the pace of the book is excellent. If you have previously read any of the Sharpe novels it is very much business as usual in terms of the characters and storyline. This particular book follows the Bussaco Campaign of 1810 and the tenth book in the series chronologically. The novel follows Sharpe as he wrestles for control of the light company whilst trying to outmanoeuvre a pair of Portuguese traitors.

The novel is one of the better Sharpe novels; however, the book does rely on your previous experiences of Sharpe and his sergeant Patrick Harper. Consequently, whilst a great read this is probably not the novel for a new reader to the Sharpe series to begin.
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