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Sharpe's Trafalgar by Cornwell Bernard

Sharpe's Trafalgar (edition 2000)

by Cornwell Bernard

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1,188289,896 (3.95)37
Title:Sharpe's Trafalgar
Authors:Cornwell Bernard
Info:Harper Collins (2000), Edition: First Thus, Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:sharpe series, naval history

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Sharpe's Trafalgar by Bernard Cornwell



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I had not read a Bernard Cornwell book in quite some time. It was nice to be back with an old friend. This is the fourth book in the Sharpe series and this one has him on board a ship in his return home from India. It just so happens that his ship sails right into the famous Battle of Trafalgar. This book follows the Cornwell formula in that we have good guys and bad guys and some characters in between who all work up into a climactic battle where Sharpe comes out on top in the end. Even with that said, I enjoyed this one more than the first three in the Sharpe series - perhaps because the story was the English versus the French rather the India setting of the first three. ( )
  msaucier818 | Apr 9, 2018 |
This is the fourth book in the Sharpe series in internal chronology but was written almost a decade after the original books set during the Peninsular campaigns. In this book, Sharpe's been promoted to junior office rank and is on his way back to the UK to take up a position in the 95th Rifles. After having discovered a scam with the belongings he'd bought for the trip back home and helping out a Royal Navy captain who'd fallen foul of the same scam, Sharpe's on board an East Indiaman where he meets a man with an important future back home, that man's very beautiful and apparently cold wife and someone Sharpe had met under another name. The East Indiaman is taken by the French after being separated from the convoy she was travelling in and Sharpe is not looking forward to the impending imprisonment in Madagascar (though that cold wife proved not to be that cold after all...). By one of those strange twists of fate that make great books, Sharpe and the rest of the prisoners are rescued by a British Man-of-War and commanded by his friend. Sharpe is prevailed upon to travel home aboard the battleship as the captain chases the French ship, also heading to its home port.

Evenly matched the two ships stay within sight for most of the journey but looks as if the French ship will beat Sharpe and his companions aboard the with details that would inflame India as the two powers vied for dominance throughout the world. but The two vessels reach Europe just as the pivotal naval battle of the next hundred years is about to be joined.

This is a rollicking read and, as usual, Sharpe finds a woman to share his bed with while Cornwell once more blinds us with his research, though the best bits about the actual battle are to be found in the historical notes where Cornwell is very scathing about the French Admiral and his actions :-) ( )
1 vote JohnFair | Jul 26, 2017 |
OK, I'll admit, I've been putting off reading this one just because the very idea of it seemed ludicrous and forced to me. As has been very firmly established, our man Richard Sharpe is a daring, lucky and resourceful infantry officer. Infantry. The guy can barely ride a horse, but he's the devil in a red coat on foot. But see, Trafalgar was a naval battle. As in between ships. Admiral Nelson. Sailing maneuvers (or lack thereof: just go right at 'em). Ramming. Boarding parties. Being on the water.

So how could Sharpe have a Trafalgar that wasn't preposterous and contrived?

Answer: well, he can't: but the contriving minimizes the preposterousness and soon the reader forgets her pre-book scoffing altogether. After all, Richard does have to get from India back to England somehow, and we readers have already swallowed his just happening to be the unknown man who killed the Tippoo Sultan and the man who "really" found the way into Gawilgur.

Anyway, lesson well learned: always trust Uncle Bernard.

Speaking of things we learn, Sharpe's Trafalgar is also where we learn, not only that Sharpe has sea legs, but that he doesn't require the heat of battle to be a killer. Oh, we've had hints of this before, witness his attempt in the first book to feed his Wile E. Coyote nemesis to a tiger, but what we see in his shipboard relationship with his would-be blackmailer*, Mister Braithwaite, shows new depths of cold-bloodedness. Sharpe has never known an even-handed, just application of society's rules and laws, so he doesn't feel particularly bound by them. Dude.

And Sharpe has a lot to learn as well, here, for he has in the person of his friend Captain Chase (whom he rescued from a nasty crew on land in the novel's prologue) an example of leadership like he's not seen before. His Pucelle**, on which Sharpe finds himself after he's sort-of-rescued from a captured Indiaman, is a great big ship of the line, a floating artillery battery, and, that rarity of rarities, a happy ship. How does he do that?

"Sharpe watched Chase, for he reckoned he had still a lot to learn about the subtle business of leading men. He saw that the captain did not secure his authority by recourse to punishment, but rather by expecting high standards and rewarding them. He also hid his doubts."

From what I know about Sharpe's future with a rifle company in the Napoleonic wars (these novels have such cultural currency that it's almost as impossible not to know Sharpe's going to end up a lieutenant in Spain as it is not to know what Rosebud is), these are good lessons for him to be getting, very important for his transformation from a gutter rat whose first (chronological) scene in fiction is of him getting flogged to a man who inspires loyalty.

The scenes with Sharpe and Chase are also a nice antidote to the soap opera adultery plot that comprises more than half this book.*** Ugh.

But the real star here is the famous naval battle, into which the Pucelle more or less stumbles. Cornwell gives Patrick O'Brian a run for his ramming, gunning, sailing money here; one could fully imagine the Surprise being somewhere in the smoke (but of course we know it wasn't. Sillies. The Surprise was as real as... as the Pucelle!). The action is described in loving detail, with an emphasis on its chaotic nature, for we are seeing it from the perspective of an infantry soldier serving as an "honorary marine" who barely understands what's going on.

And yes, Cornwell succumbs to the temptation to substitute his fictional ship for the real one that rescued Admiral Nelson's flagship just as the French were about to board her, and also to the temptation to make Sharpe the person Nelson finds most interesting at his pre-battle breakfast. But I ask you: who wouldn't? Scenes such as those are a big part of why historical fiction is fun, if one isn't simply writing a fictionalized biography of an actual historical figure the way, say, Jean Plaidy does. But yes, I rolled my eyes a bit. But I was also smiling. It's a Sharpe book, after all.

It's just not the best Sharpe book. Hey, they can't all be.

Onward to Europe!

*Of course the blackmail is over a woman. Cornwell knows and respects the principle of Chekhov's Gun; if a pretty woman shows up in the first act of a Sharpe novel, Sharpe is going to become her lover, even if, as in this case, she is married to an obnoxious nobleman.

**"Pucelle" in English is "virgin." Ho ho!

**The other half, at least until the Pucelle stumbles across the battle at Trafalgar, is a chase plot. While Sharpe is schtupping the nobleman's wife in every unseen corner of the ship that isn't too disgusting, the ship is chasing a French one, the Revenant, to which Sharpe's frenemy and also a suspected spy jumped after it took the first ship that Sharpe and co embarked on, the Calliope. It's all very exciting and Patrick O'Brian-ish, and I would have much preferred it without all the tedious adultery, but I'm just sort of like that, you know? ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
My favorite of the four Sharpe novels I've read. Poor Admiral Nelson! ( )
  BooksForDinner | Feb 1, 2016 |
The actual battle is just the last bit of the book, which is fine. Sharpe has to take a ship back to England & Cromwell paints a logical picture of why Sharpe, an army soldier, would wind up in this battle. He admits he had no real business there, but it works well & gave me a visceral picture of life on board the ships of the time as well as covering this pivotal battle of the era.

Life on a ship of this time was rough. Sharpe, as an ensign, is in the perfect position to show us all aspects & there is quite a difference between what a crewman or steerage passenger can expect compared to the officers & rich passengers. The way fighting was handled was also covered completely. Horrifying is probably the only word that really covers the whole experience. Since Carnival Cruises have been much in the news, the comparison is obvious & provides a laughable counterpoint. Our expectations have come a long way in 2 centuries. ( )
  jimmaclachlan | Aug 18, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bernard Cornwellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cerutti Pini, DonatellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gaminara, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tull, PatrickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Sharpe's Trafalgar is for Wanda Pan, Anne Knowles, Janet Eastham, Elinor and Rosemary Davenhill, and Maureen Shettle
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"A hundred and fifteen rupees," Ensign Richard Sharpe said, counting the money onto the table.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0061098620, Paperback)

For military-history buffs, Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels are the literary equivalent of potato chips: you can't read just one. And in this case, why would you want to? Blending meticulous research and old-fashioned entertainment, the series follows the roguish adventurer Richard Sharpe as he swashbuckles his way through the Napoleonic Wars. In Sharpe's Trafalgar, the author ventures into Patrick O'Brian's maritime territory. Anchors aweigh, lads, and bring on the detailed descriptions of the ship's guns and their firing mechanisms!

In the beginning of the book, our hero sets sail for England after five months of service in India. The plot revolves around a disguised diplomat, a marauding French warship, and an improbable love affair with a comely English aristocrat. But make no mistake, the real draw here is combat. The battle scenes crackle with energy, and we can practically feel the chop of the waves and smell the reek of gunpowder. (We can also smell 600 unwashed men in close quarters with rats, sewage, and bilge rot, but that's another matter entirely.) The last hundred pages fly by at a furious clip, cannons pounding and cutlasses hacking, as Cornwell re-creates the naval battle of Trafalgar.

These days, of course, we know that war is bloody and brutal, not honorable or fair. We like even our most appealing warriors to have some passing acquaintance with their dark side, and Sharpe does take a decidedly antiheroic stance on the experience of hand-to-hand combat:

He was ashamed when he remembered the joy of it, but there was a joy there. It was the happiness of being released to the slaughter, of having every bond of civilization removed. It was also what Richard Sharpe was good at. It was why he wore an officer's sash instead of a private's belt, because in almost every battle the moment came when the disciplined ranks dissolved and a man simply had to claw and scratch and kill like a beast.
Beast or no beast, Sharpe is far more interesting and complex than the musket-wielding action figure he might first appear. And it's nearly impossible not to take some pleasure at his bloody exploits. Sharpe's Trafalgar is a superb example of the ripping good yarn--it confirms our secret conviction that war may be hell, but it's actually pretty exciting too. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:33 -0400)

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In 1805, British soldier Richard Sharpe is faced with a new enemy when the ship carrying him to England is attacked by a French warship and he discovers that the French vessel is carrying a treaty that ignites hostilities against the British in India.… (more)

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