Huw Rhys's Reviews > Waterloo

Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell
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Aug 17, 11

Read from August 05 to 17, 2011

Firstly, my prejudices - I've been a huge fan of the TV versions of the Sharpe books; I've been an even bigger fan of the Napoleonic Wars, and Waterloo in particular - I've probably read more on and around the subject than is healthy for anyone.

Although I've never actually read a Bernard Cornwell novel before, I was really looking forward, therefore, to reading his account of Richard Sharpe's contribution to the Battle of Waterloo.

All the ingredients for a literary disaster therefore - I had set my sights so high, disappointment was the only possible outcome.

But for once in my life, reality exceeded a very high expectation.

Cornwell manages to hit the bullseye on all fronts here. This is an historical account, as well as being a rip roaring novel; he describes and develops characters superbly throughout the plot without letting the individual's persona overshadow the action he is but a small cog within; he describes the visceral, stomach churning horror of 19th Century battle whilst also introducing some delightful humour - such as the two junior officers, just falling into shellshock as the French cannons' create bloody mayhem all around them, discussing the sport of golf "I once saw a little man with a red beard playing golf at Troon".... - into the narrative. Finally, he somehow manages to capture and describe the morality of man at war, both at an individual and collective, higher level.

If there is something that he leaves out of the book, it is the political context of the Battle, and the implications for both sides of winning and losing. But as he says in the epilogue, there are people far better qualified than him to do this, and he is right.

What impressed me most of all about this book though was the quality of the writing. There is a rhythm to the author's sentences that seem to match the setting - battle scenes are described in an almost staccato style, echoing the junctures between the volleys of musket shots that are being described, whereas some of the more descriptive chapters of the novel are presented in longer, languorous stanzas. Everything is conveyed in a rich language which is actually very easy on the eye.

I was expecting much from my first Bernard Cornwell book - and my expectations were surpassed. A fantastic read. I'll be going back for more!
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