Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sharpe's Battle by Bernard Cornwell



(Acquired: bookstore)

I read my first Bernard Cornwell as part of an Advanced Reader program (or at least the first I remember reading) and enjoyed how he brought me into the action. I'd been looking for Nicholas and Alexandra on my shelf this time, in the mood for some historical fiction, but when I couldn't find it, I noticed Sharpe's Battle. I do not regret the substitution at all. This novel surprised me in many ways because it is much more mature than the first one I read, The Last Kingdom, in both language and horrific detail, but still shows all that captivated me before. Sharpe is a soldier in the British Army in 1811 (at least for this book), and while reading, you can feel the grit beneath his boots and the dry gunpowder in his mouth from biting off the cartridges. Cornwell does not pull punches or in any way ""prettify"" war. People die, and die brutally, horrible things happen, people you come to admire are threatened and killed, while people you despise seem sure to walk away clean. There's tactics, strategy, politics, diplomacy, all mushed in together to form a cohesive, gritty whole that makes it a hard book to put down.

From the writer's perspective, there are two things Cornwell does exceptionally well: omniscient (which has been the subject of much discussion recently), and recap of the series. I hadn't been aware that I choose a late-stage book in the series since I picked it up on author name alone, but I'm not one who has to read things in order to enjoy them. On the other hand, the recap of previous events was subtle, touching only on the highlights, and served as a way to give Sharpe a well-rounded background. These events made him the person he was, and whether they'd been covered in detail in a previous book or not was irrelevant. Even better, since no detail beyond the fact was offered, I'm sure the original books that covered those moments will be just as wonderful.

On the omniscient, this is true omniscient, none of the "camera-view" people have started to call omniscient despite the oxymoron in that designation. The POV goes from up close and personal including internal contemplation, to hanging overhead as one army attempts to decimate another. He even managed to pull off a trick that would have driven me nuts in another book, which is he hid a crucial bit of information by temporarily sliding to someone else's close view, someone who could see, but not hear, the main character and another talking. Part of the reason it worked though is that he held the reader in suspense for a very short time. Within the next few pages, we had the answer to that odd confrontation.

Ultimately, reader or writer, I'd recommend Bernard Cornwell as a way to touch history and wallow in the enjoyment of a skilled author.

3 comments:

jodi said...

I wallow in the dvd adaptions, lol. The series is beautifully photographed and skillfully done. If you like the books, you'll enjoy (note I didn't say love, just enjoy) the mini-series. Nothing can beat a book. (except for the Princess Bride. For some reason the Princess bride is wonderful as a movie and horrible as a book, lol)

Margaret said...

Hmm, I used to live for historical fiction movies. Don't do TV all that much anymore, but I enjoyed Master and Commander so maybe I'll look them up :). Thanks for the tip.

jodi said...

Master and Commander was great. It should have done better at the box office. And you're very welcome. :)