Steve Sckenda's Reviews > Sharpe's Eagle

Sharpe's Eagle by Bernard Cornwell
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Dec 19, 13

bookshelves: war, historical-fiction, britain, spain, british
Recommended for: Lovers of Military History Series
Read in August, 1997 — I own a copy, read count: 1

“Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier.” (Samuel Johnson)

Richard Sharpe knew no home other than the army, no family except for the Regiment, and no possessions other than what he carried in his pack. Sharpe has loved the British Army, which has given him the opportunity to prove himself-- again and again. He knew no other way to live and expected that it would be the way he would die.

Sharpe is an orphan who fought his way up the enlisted ranks to become an officer in the 95th Rifles with their distinctive dark green jackets. Sharpe was promoted by merit rather than by purchasing commissions and promotion as most British officers did, including Sharpe’s antagonist, Simmerson, a treacherous and petty man. Now, during the Napoleonic Wars, merit must prove itself over wealth.

“Sharpe's Eagle” is set in 1809 during the Peninsular War (in Spain and Portugal) when Great Britain, Portugal, and Spain were united in war against France. The story climaxes with the Battle of Talavera, south of Madrid.

An infantryman feared nothing more than the combination of French cavalry working in conjunction with artillery. French cavalry (Chasseurs) ride into the gaps blasted by grapeshot and slice through tender flesh. As a counter-tactic, the British formed “squares” of close-packed infantry with bayonets, which were impervious to cavalry. The front of the square fires a volley into the charging horses which sheer away at the last minute and sweep around the square while being blasted by the rifleman on the sides and back of the square.

Bernard Cornwell is a good story-teller and excels at battle scenes, though he lacks the elegance, irony, and depth of Patrick O’Brian (chronicler of the Royal Navy). This is amusing because it mirrors the traditional grievance of the British Army that it got the leftovers and sucked on the hind tit while the Royal Navy got preferential treatment. Regardless, this is a really fun way to learn history and details of a day in the life of a British soldier during the Napoleonic Wars.

This is the first Sharpe’s novel to be written, but it is no longer the first, chronologically, because, as the series became more successful, Cornwell wrote many prequels. Based on intuition and experience with series, I still think that this is the place for the average reader to start unless he or she is absolutely committed to read all 22 books of the series in a row. I prefer to jump into the thick of it, especially if that is where Cornwell himself started. I may skip ahead to the Battle of Waterloo next.

Having run afoul of powerful rivals, Sharpe knows that his only chance to save his career is in doing something outlandishly heroic. He therefore resolves to capture the standard of the French, the gilded eagle, which is personally presented to each regiment by the Emperor. The task seems suicidal, but Sharpe's entire future depends on it. Goodreaders, “I give you Sharpe’s Eagle.”

August 17, 2013
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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by Henry (new)

Henry Avila Another great and elegant review,Steve.Looks kind of interesting.See how my tribe fought.


Steve Sckenda Henry wrote: "Another great and elegant review,Steve.Looks kind of interesting.See how my tribe fought."

LOL. Yes, Henry the Portuguese were most definitely feared! Thank you so much for your kind comment. :)


Jason Koivu Totally agree with your assessment. Nice review, Steve.


Steve Sckenda Jason wrote: "Totally agree with your assessment. Nice review, Steve."

Thanks Jason. I appreciate your supportive comment.


Michael Happy for you to discover the pleasures of this series and to share it so thoughtfully. I've only read about a third of them, so I stand to reap any discoveries of yours of worthy reads in the future.

I appreciate how Sharpe gets dragged into doing something brave and magnificent for motives other than loyalty to the Crown. And his ability to engage dedication from his men while assuring that the bad lot on his own team end up getting their just fate.

Like you, readings on the naval side of the Napoleonic Wars led to exploring these tales of the army perspective. Am curious about a bit of crossover in "Sharpe's Trafalgar", though to place him there would be a bit of a contrivance.


Jason Koivu Michael wrote: "Am curious about a bit of crossover in "Sharpe's Trafalgar", though to place him there would be a bit of a contrivance."

Michael, in "Sharpe's Trafalgar" I feel Cornwell did force the issue a bit. He tried to wedge Sharpe into a historical moment that the character doesn't naturally fit into. The result was a story that often strays away from Sharpe to attend to naval matters, and since Sharpe is the reason we readers come back again and again to the series, I feel like it was a poor choice of subject matter. I think Cornwell just REALLY wanted to write about Trafalgar, and who can blame him? It's not a bad book, by any means though.


Steve Sckenda Michael wrote: "Happy for you to discover the pleasures of this series and to share it so thoughtfully. I've only read about a third of them, so I stand to reap any discoveries of yours of worthy reads in the fut..."

LOL. I knew you would be holding down that battlefield waiting for me to show up, Michael. Well the two of us get around in our world of books about as much as Sharpe does in his, don't we? :) Yes, it's nice when those personal motivations converge with what benefits the Crown.


Steve Sckenda Jason wrote: "Michael wrote: "Am curious about a bit of crossover in "Sharpe's Trafalgar", though to place him there would be a bit of a contrivance."

Michael, in "Sharpe's Trafalgar" I feel Cornwell did force ..."


Hey, Jason. Does O'Brian ever put Aubrey at Trafalgar? Based on the dating of HMS Surprise in 1805 and the subject matter of Mauritius Command, I am beginning to wonder.


message 9: by Gloria (new)

Gloria I have only ever caught some of these on DVD because of Sean Bean. :) Guess I should have been paying attention that they were based on books.


Steve Sckenda Gloria wrote: "I have only ever caught some of these on DVD because of Sean Bean. :) Guess I should have been paying attention that they were based on books."

Yes, same here when I read this. It was reissued in US to coincide with PBS airing of the British show. So when I read it, I had no idea it was a show, so I did not see Sean Bean in my mind. :)


Jason Koivu Steve aka Sckenda wrote: "Jason wrote: "Michael wrote: "Am curious about a bit of crossover in "Sharpe's Trafalgar", though to place him there would be a bit of a contrivance."

Michael, in "Sharpe's Trafalgar" I feel Cornw..."


If memory serves, Aubrey misses out on Trafalgar.


message 12: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Fond memories. I took a pratfall in October, 1995, entertaining a number of my courthouse friends by stumbling into a lamp post. I caught myself with my right hand as I crumpled to the ground and heard a crack in my shoulder. Following paramedics having cut my shirt (brand new) leaving me on display as the great beached white whale, I recovered at home with approximately the first ten Sharpe's novels. Cornwell became a favorite. Sharpe and Lortab 7.5 turned a broken shoulder into a rather pleasant respite from relentless trial work.

Interestingly, Cornwell has become one of my wife's favorite authors, but only regarding the King Alfred series. She huffingly notes that Cornwell cannot write women.

I recommend the prequels which include Sharpe having saved Wellington's life prior to the Peninsular Wars. However, enjoy the Sharpes safely without the necessity of a broken shoulder. Lortab leaves some of the action a bit foggy. *grin*


message 13: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Good review Steve, as always. Bernard Cornwell's like that brilliant history professor you had that made the past come alive with his lectures. I read this series in order years ago and I loved each book for Cornwell's brilliant history of the Napoleanic era's Peninsular War, Richard Sharp and his fictional role in the campaign and the 19th century military action. Brenard Cornwell and I have a deal now - He writes and publishes, I buy the books, read them and enjoy them immensely!........Ed


Steve Sckenda Ed wrote: "Good review Steve, as always. Bernard Cornwell's like that brilliant history professor you had that made the past come alive with his lectures. I read this series in order years ago and I loved eac..."

Ed. LOL. I love that deal you have with Cornwell. Now, you've got me really excited with your enthusiasm. I did enjoy the book immensely and I will join you further along in the war. Long live the King!


Steve Sckenda Mike wrote: "Fond memories. I took a pratfall in October, 1995, entertaining a number of my courthouse friends by stumbling into a lamp post. I caught myself with my right hand as I crumpled to the ground and..."

Fond memory. LOL. I have tried to read before while recovering from surgery and popping Loritab. It worked for Matterhorn (pain made the the feel of fictional GSW more authentic). It did not work for Sotweed Factor as I kept getting lost. I often read while I walk for several hours outdoors, and people are placing bets as to when I will run into an object and really hurt myself. I love that your wife has found Cornwell that she likes. That has got to give you both plenty to talk about. Mike your recommendation for those prequels is given high esteem by me. Thank you for taking the time off the Trail to comment on my behalf. I appreciate you.


message 16: by Dolors (last edited Dec 20, 2013 06:58PM) (new)

Dolors Your articulate retelling of the battle scene brought me reminiscences of Tostoy's memorable depiction of the Battle of Borodino in "War and Peace". Cornwell might be a good choice to learn history details while providing entertainment. The same, among many other things, could be said about your reviews.


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