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Title: Sharpe’s Prey
Series: Sharpe #5
Authors: Bernard Cornwell
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
The year is 1807, and Richard Sharpe is at a very low point in his life. His beloved aristocratic lover, Lady Grace Hale, has died in childbirth, along with their newborn son. Her family’s lawyers then took all of Sharpe’s wealth (loot he obtained fighting in India), claiming it was Grace’s and that it now reverts to her family. Destitute and relegated to the menial job of quartermaster, Sharpe is on the streets of London, contemplating leaving the army.
First though, he revisits the foundling home where he was raised to get his revenge. He robs and kills Jem Hocking, his childhood tormentor.
Then a former commanding officer, Major General David Baird, finds him in a pub. Captain John Lavisser was assigned a bodyguard for a secret mission to Copenhagen, but the bodyguard was killed, supposedly by a common footpad, and a replacement is needed immediately. Baird persuades Sharpe to take the job. Lavisser does not want a bodyguard since he already has a huge servant named Barker, but orders are orders. Lord Pumphrey of the Foreign Office gives Sharpe a contact in case he runs into trouble.
Denmark is neutral, but has a powerful fleet. Napoleon wants to replace the ships France lost at the Battle of Trafalgar, and Britain is equally determined to see to it that does not happen. Lavisser’s task is to bribe the Danish crown prince to hand over the fleet for safekeeping. (Lavisser’s grandfather is the prince’s chamberlain, and they are also related by marriage.) If that fails, the British will have to seize the ships by force.
When they go ashore in Denmark, Sharpe narrowly escapes being killed by Barker. He walks to Copenhagen and goes to see Ole Skovgaard, the emergency contact. Skovgaard turns out to be the main spy for Britain in Denmark. Meanwhile, Lavisser defects to the Danes and “confesses” that the British have sent an assassin to kill the crown prince. Skovgaard reads this lie in the newspaper and locks Sharpe in a room to await Lavisser. Sharpe escapes just in time. Lavisser turns out to be in the employ of the French; he and his men torture Skovgaard for the names of his contacts throughout Europe. Sharpe manages to kill some of Lavisser’s henchmen and drive the rest off. During his stay at Skovgaard’s house, he and Skovgaard’s beautiful widowed daughter, Astrid, become attracted to each other. They eventually sleep together, and Sharpe contemplates settling down in Copenhagen with her.
When the British besiege Copenhagen, Sharpe joins them. The Danes refuse to surrender their fleet, so the British bombard the city. Sharpe, by now knowing the general layout of Copenhagen, guides a small force to the Danish ships, which have been prepared for burning in case the British break in. The men hide aboard the ships and safeguard them against burning. Meanwhile, Sharpe goes to Skovgaard’s, only to find he has been captured and tortured again by Lavisser, who obtains the names of the British spies. Sharpe rescues Skovgaard, kills Lavisser and Barker, and gets the list of names. The city surrenders, and the Danish fleet is captured intact.
Skovgaard will no longer work for the British after what they have done to his city. He also orders Astrid to break up with Sharpe, which she does. Lord Pumphrey has Sharpe sent back to England, as he does not want the rifleman to learn that he must have the Skovgaards killed; they know too much.
My issues with Sharpe and his behavior continue and as such I think I’m going to call it quits. I also really disliked that Cornwell, the author, kills off a woman and child to propel Sharpe on his continued path of anti-hero. Just like I discussed last month in the “Project X – V” post, villains are bad, and anti-heroes are not much better in my eyes.
So while the writing is great, the over all story is engaging and very interesting and I like reading these adventures, the in your face immorality of Sharpe and Cornwell’s philosophy of anti-hero’ness are too much to overcome.
If neither of those things bother you, then I would recommend trying out this series if you want some action packed historical fiction. If you would like a more positive set of reviews, Jenn at Eternal Bookcase has been reviewing the Sharpe books as well.