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Sharpe's Eagle by Bernard Cornwell
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's review
Dec 30, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: historical, doing-the-dishes, good-enough-for-babies-to-eat, napoleonic-era
Read in December, 2009

WARNING: This review claims that historical novels are like porn movies, and I discuss porn throughout. Please avoid this review if porn offends you.

Historical novels are a bit like porn for me. I am always faintly ashamed to be a fan, I generally hide my taste for them, but I get off on what they have to offer.

There are high-end historical novels, like Aubrey-Maturin (the one series I am proud to be a fan of) or Wolf Hall, that are sort of like Deep Throat and other the classic porn movies -- if you have to admit to your tastes, they are the ones that are easy to claim as your own. Then there are the historical romances, like The Thorn Birds, that are akin to the new era of Jenna Jameson's plastic-porn hi-jinks. And there's the truly bizarre historical fictions, like I Claudius, that feel like titillating fetish porn full of stockings and S&M. It's easy to understand their readership (and viewership) even if they're not to one's own taste.

Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books, therefore, have their porn equivalent: the world of polished, pseudo-amateur, "dirty girl" driven porn. And I shamefacedly declare right now that I am a fan of both.

Sharpe's Eagle, my latest foray into the career of Richard Sharpe, is the installment that pushed this comparison into the front of my mind and doomed me to writing this review. I found myself hiding the cover of Sharpe's Eagle, folding the front cover over the back, while in a long Christmas shopping line. For some reason I didn't want anyone to see what I was reading. Maybe it's because I teach literature and I didn't want anyone to see me reading something lacking seriousness, maybe there's still some flirty, teenage boy part of me, the D&D geek from way back, that didn't want some pretty girl to catch me being a geek. I'm really not sure which it was, but whichever it was, I caught myself hiding Sharpe's Eagle and had to force myself to pry the front cover away from the back to display my silly shame to the world. And when I walked out of that store, it struck me that I always do the same thing when it comes to porn. I hide the few movies I own, and I don't really talk to anyone (except my wife and Ruzz) about the bits of porn that I like.

And once this idea occurred to me, I was surprised at the textual parallels that sprang up to solidify the concept in my mind. Sharpe's Eagle isn't the best written work. Its prose is occasionally sloppy, and it's inconsistently paced. It is violent, espousing questionable ethics while simultaneously taking its own distinct stance on some pretty important issues. And it is terribly fun to read. I was excited to reach the next battle or the next bit of intrigue, and I found myself instantly looking forward to the next installment. Not in any obsessive or overwhelming or unhealthy way, but fondly and warmly because...well...reading Sharpe is enjoyable, and who doesn't like enjoying themselves?

The same goes for my "polished, pseudo-amateur, 'dirty girl' driven porn" preference. It isn't the best filmed work. Its quality is occasionally sloppy, and it's inconsistently paced. It is hyper-sexual, espousing questionable ethics while simultaneously taking its own distinct stance on some pretty important issues (some of it really does, I'm not kidding). And it is terribly fun to watch. I am excited to reach the next scene or the next shift in position, and I find myself looking forward to the next viewing. Not in any obsessive or overwhelming or unhealthy way, but fondly and warmly because...well...watching porn is enjoyable, and who doesn't like enjoying themselves?

So there you have it. To me, the adventures of Richard Sharpe are historical novel porn. And whether I should be ashamed of my enjoyment or not, I will continue to read them, and now I will proudly display their covers no matter what line I'm standing in.

I think I'll keep my porn movies hidden away, though. I'm not sure I can put those out with the general video population just yet.
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Reading Progress

02/02 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Eric_W (new)

Eric_W Who would have thought I was a porn addict, too. I love all the Cornwell series. Try his Starbuck Chronicles. First rate stuff, errr, porn.

Brad Hahaha...I was reading the encapsulations of his other books at the back of Sharpe's Eagle today and I noticed a couple of the Starbuck books. I may just do that, Eric_W.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio It disturbs me that this review is for a book on a shelf called "good-enough-for-babies-to-eat."

Brad I wondered if anyone was going to notice that. Of course it is you who noticed Sherlock MFSO.

So here's the story: my baby, Scout, she loves to eat books. And the first day I was reading this book, before my porn concept developed, she got hold of the book at the table and gummed the spine and cover all up, hence "good-enough-for-babies-to-eat." So I added that category later on in the day and added Sharpe's Eagle to that shelf. I almost pulled it off that shelf when I wrote the review last night, but I thought, "Naw. It'll become an excellent talking point."

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio There's always a logical explanation, Watson.

(I rather enjoyed the new Holmes flick, by the way.)

Brad Me too. I was even pleased with Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, much to my surprise. And I imagine Doyle would have approved. I waited until the end of the credits expecting a glimpse of Moriarty's face; there wasn't one, though, so I suppose we'll have to wait until the sequel.

message 7: by Kelly H. (Maybedog) (last edited Jan 02, 2010 04:07AM) (new)

Kelly H. (Maybedog) I couldn't possibly pass up reading your review when it has a warning about porn. I was sadly disappointed, Brad, I expected something more explicit. :)

I think I Claudius is pretty close to porn even without the comparisons you make. I watched the t.v. series with my high school latin club and there was a LOT of sex, made me blush to watch with those people. Those Romans!

I feel the same way about space opera. I find myself hiding my book when I'm reading sf trash. I work so hard to convince people that sf is a legitimate, intelligent genre that I feel like I'm doing something dirty when I read stuff that's basically space smut.

So is this the same Sharpe that is in all those BCC movies like Sharpe's Eagles and Sharpe's Really Mad?

Brad Sorry to disappoint, Kelly. I had a much more explicit section, but then I thought...well, I wasn't the only person to consider.

I love your "Sharpe's Really Mad." I've never actually seen the series, but they are connected. I hear Boromir is quite good as Sharpe. The books are very much that way, Sharpe is always bitter. I need to watch those movies someday.

I find myself doing the same thing with some SF too. It's weird isn't it? I remember Stranger in a Strange Land being one I was always hiding.

Kelly H. (Maybedog) I haven't seen any of them but the titles are all things like "Sharpe's Revenge" and "Sharpe's Seige" and "Sharpe's Enemy."

I was 12 when I read Stranger in a Strange Land so I didn't know I should be hiding it... :)

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