Title: Sharpe’s Prey
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication date: 1st Jan 2000
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Private Collection
Richard Sharpe is sent to Copenhagen to deliver a bribe to stop the Danes handing over possession of their battle fleet to the French.
It seems very easy. But nothing is easy in a Europe stirred by French ambitions. The Danes possess a battle fleet that could replace every ship the French lost at Trafalgar, and Napoleon’s forces are gathering to take it. The British have to stop them, while the Danes insist on remaining neutral.
Dragged into a war of spies and brutality, Sharpe finds that he is a sacrificial pawn. But pawns can sometimes change the game, and Sharpe makes his own rules. When he discovers a traitor in his midst, he becomes a hunter in a city besieged by British troops.
Swiftly moving on after the somewhat disappointing Sharpe’s Trafalgar. I am happy to say that the pages were turned a lot easier in this offering in the Sharpe series compared to the previous and we’re back on track!
Sharpe’s Prey is the 5th in chronological order for the Sharpe series which sees Richard Sharpe, unhappy with his assignment to the role of Quartermaster thinks once again about leaving the army. Approached by Sir David Baird with an important mission, Sharpe accompanies aide John Lavisser to Denmark in order to bribe the Danish Crowned-Prince into handing over their naval fleet.
While Sharpe’s Prey does follow the now tried and tested elements of Sharpe novels that are already becoming somewhat predictable, yet comfort reading novels, there is something still refreshing within this novel. Sharpe’s Prey has elements of espionage; Sharpe is sneaking around the streets of Copenhagen, hunting his new enemy while the British army bombard the city in an attempt to get them to surrender their precious fleet.
The high-profile and scandalous romance that blossomed in the previous book has come to a rather tragic end, which leaves Sharpe somewhat forlorn and in mourning; adding a sympathetic edge to the usually hard-faced man. I found enjoyment in this exploration of his character development and was pleasantly surprised with the events that involve Sharpe’s Prey‘s leading female character. Of course, by the middle of the book Sharpe is newly in love, confused by the notion and wanting to marry this new woman; Astrid. Unlike the stilted love-affair of the previous novel, there was something entertaining about the romance – it is a little trite and shoe-horned, but this is something that I have no come to expect in the Sharpe series.
There are expertly crafted scenes of hard-fisted action which are always a pleasure to read. They make up the backbone of Sharpes exploits, regardless of where he currently is in the world and they’re well placed in the overall plot. When they happen they make perfect sense and some of them are rather tense – in one Sharpe is having to escape being held captive while awaiting his enemies arrival and his method of escape is an intense nail-biter and this feeling oozes off the page and really makes the reader feel the absolute peril that Sharpe is in.
I have no doubt enjoyed the previous books in the series, but I feel like Sharpe’s Prey is the first book in the series where we’re getting to know the real Richard Sharpe. His moral compass is being properly defined; his moral obligations to protect the innocent properly come to the fore during the bombardment of Copenhagen. His dedication to the Great-British Army has always been under his personal question, yet he always slinks back despite his doubts, so we’re seeing keen development of a sense of loyalty, but only when his mind is sufficiently occupied – being left to rot in England as a Quartermaster isn’t enough for Sharpe, suggesting a keen intelligence. We’re already well-acquainted with both his ruthlessness and resourcefulness in the heat of the moment. All of these aspects of Sharpes character are exploited to perfection with Sharpe’s Prey and I applaud Bernard Cornwell for being able to keep Sharpe both in character with himself and developing throughout the long series. I am eager to learn more about the depth of Sharpes character throughout the series; even though some of the later books chronologically are the earlier published ones – just to see if this development was planned from the beginning or the result of ‘free-writing.’
I found the delving into Sharpe’s, revisiting his home in the London district of Wapping to be highly entertaining and diverse from the usual ‘home-coming’ stories. While in India, Sharpe fantasised about returning home to show his orphanage patrons he’d made something of himself. This fantasy is explored in Sharpe’s Prey and the outcome is rather… irregular from the home-coming tropes perspective. And, it’s brilliant for it!
To illustrate the thoughts about Sharpe being a more complex than face-value character. At the start of Sharpe’s Prey, he is reeling from the loss of Lady Grace, destitute and the only way he can see out of his situation is to commit bloody murder. By the end, he is giving his newly found riches away to those that need it more than he does.
Set two years after Sharpe’s Trafalgar, I was elated that there we’re characters surviving the interim years who made an appearance in this novel. The ever joyful Captain Chase and his crew make a fine addition to the character roster – especially with Sharpe being in charge and more suited to life on land. Their involvement in Sharpe’s Prey made perfect sense in regards to the whole affair and their appearance put a smile upon my face, considering the dire events that unfold throughout the story.
I do think that the plot is somewhat contrived – how is it that Sharpe can be in all of these places at the ‘right’ time and survive? It’s implausible, but I personally, think that is part of the joy of these books. They’re enlightening the reader to, in this case, some very abhorrent atrocities through the eyes of an enjoyable, sensationalist central character. Yet, the inner workings of the plot make sense and resolve themselves throughout the book. All the individual espionage elements of the plot are wrapped up, the enemy is vanquished and there are hush-ups and promises made to Sharpe for his involvement and it all comes together in resolution in the end.
As ever, Bernard Cornwell offers a fast-paced book. The battle scenes are intense and extraordinarily well-written, easily accessible to the reader without over emphasising the minor details. Yet, there is enough depiction in them to give the reader a clear view of the technicalities of battle and on the individuals actions.
The next book in the series, Sharpe’s Rifles, was originally published way back in 1988, I find myself eager to read it to look for writing-style and character differences as much as to discover what happens next to Richard Sharpe.
A fast-paced novel with more of an espionage feel to the plot with Sharpe back on land where he belongs. More development into Richard Sharpe as a complex character enabling him to stand-out amongst a crowd of ‘average characters.’ Uncomplicated scenes of battles and bombardment mixed with more scenes of a different kind of violence. Highly enjoyable offering from the Sharpe series.
Just don’t expect much from female characters in the Sharpe series!