Book Review: Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Escape: Richard Sharpe and the Bussaco Campaign

Posted December 13, 2011 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Escape: Richard Sharpe and the Bussaco Campaign

Sharpe’s Escape: Richard Sharpe and the Bussaco Campaign


Bernard Cornwell

historical fiction, military fiction that was published by HarperCollins on October 13, 2009 and has 368 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Sharpe's Fortress: India 1803, Sharpe's Trafalgar: Richard Sharpe & the Battle of Trafalgar, October 21, 1805, arpe's Prey: Denmark, 1807, Sharpe's Rifles, Sharpe's Havoc: Portugal 1809, Sharpe’s Eagle, Sharpe's Gold: Richard Sharpe and the Destruction of Almeida, Sharpe's Battle: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, Sharpe's Company, Sharpe's Sword, Sharpe's Fury: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Barrosa, Sharpe's Enemy: The Defense of Portugal, Christmas 1812, Sharpe's Honor, Sharpe's Regiment

Tenth in the Richard Sharpe military fiction series revolving around Richard Sharpe, a captain now in Wellesley’s forces in Portugal in September 1810.

My Take

I do adore the Richard Sharpe series. I confess it’s Sean Bean’s fault that I started to read this series in the first place, but I’ve fallen in love with it for its own sake. It’s so much better than the TV series…sorry, Sean.

It’s that inside look into history from behind-the-scenes, if you will, from a regular soldier’s viewpoint. Sure, Sharpe may be a captain now, but he came up through the ranks, and as Cornwell repeats, it’s a damn near impossible feat for one such as Richard Sharpe to rise as high as he does. But Sharpe is hard scrabble. Tougher than most any man in the army with a keen eye for strategy and a soft heart for the ladies.

It’s politics. That of war, of enemies, of businessmen and traitors. Add in the strategies required to win on the battlefield and the back alleys, and you’ll find spies galore while the underdogs work to put one over on the enemy and the brass.

LOL, Sharpe gets the girl again. I wonder what will happen with this one?!

As for this installment’s pain in Sharpe’s ass, it’s brevette captain Cornelius Slingsby, a drunk and an idiot who must be related to Sir Henry Simmerson with his obsession with the rules and his need to be respected. He is at least braver than Simmerson.

I do love men’s compliments to each other:

“‘I didn’t want you in the way when those gunners started firing, ‘ Harper explained…

‘Decent of you, Pat.’

‘If you died, sir, then Slingsby would take over,’ Harper said…”

“Major Forrest…doubted the fighting efficiency of the South Essex would be enhanced by a campaign to improve its manners.” [Upon the Colonel trying to justify appointing Slingsby command of the skirmishers instead of Sharpe.]

Not many “official” battles in this story. The one at Bussaco which the British won but retreated from anyway and then the interaction at the farmhouse. Poor Masséna, I could almost feel sorry for him. Except I’m not impressed with the discipline in the French army or their habit of eating off the land. It’s rather funny how the British line is so obviously superior to column and yet was such a disaster in the Revolutionary War in America up against the Americans’ guerrilla-style fighting.

I did enjoy Sarah discovering there was more to life than stiffness and propriety. Although, having to learn it by taking off all one’s clothes and escaping as they do seems a bit hard. But Sarah does get the hang of it, even learning to load and fire a Baker rifle when she’s not slamming the butt into someone’s gut.

The Story

Poor Sharpe. His month’s leave in Lisbon got cut short by three weeks. Just long enough for Josefina to sew him a shirt and mend his Rifleman’s jacket.

Then trust Captain Sharpe to fall into a tricky situation when he and his men head out to destroy the telegraph tower and run across an illegal supplies transaction instead. Not content with coming between the French and their suppliers, Sharpe just has to destroy the goods and create new enemies. An enemy who will prove to be extremely stubborn when Sharpe gets to Coimbra on the British Army’s retreat from the battle at Bussaco and saves the girl. Well, actually they save two girls, Sarah Frey and Joana. Ladies who, well, get into the swing of things.

Between Ferragus and Slingsby, Sharpe is having a horrible few weeks with Ferragus plotting and planning to take Sharpe down any way he can through entrapment and ambush while Slingsby simply exists. Matters aren’t helped with Lawford smarming about pushing Sharpe into helping Slingsby bypass Sharpe for command. It’s just patience though until Slingsby screws up and Sharpe’s friends continue to speak up for him to Lawford. But it’s Sharpe’s threats to sign up with the Portuguese that finally seem to get through to the Colonel. That and Sharpe keeps saving his men and the regiment over and over again…

The Characters

Richard Sharpe signed up with the army to fight in India when he was seventeen. It was sign or hang, and the army seemed a better bet. Now Richard has fought his way up to the rank of captain (gazetted) and gained the attention of a number of men in authority. At least to appreciate his skills and intelligence.

The number of Sharpe’s men has…
…swelled to 54 and includes some fresh meat from England with all the mod cons the British army was so proud of, including the painful Trotters packs. The men include Sergeant Patrick Harper who is still with Sharpe; Sergeant Read, a Methodist; Ensign Iliffe; Daniel Hagman, a poacher from home; Corporal Matthew Dodd; Harris; Perkins; Sergeant Huckfield; Carter; Lieutenant Jack Bullen seems a nice lad; and, worst of all, Lieutenant Cornelius Slingsby has replaced Lieutenant Robert Knowles who is now Lawford’s Adjutant. Even worse, Lawford is giving Slingsby (Lawford’s new brother-in-law) all the perks and bypassing Sharpe.

Lieutenant Colonel the Honorable William Lawford is still in command of the South Essex, and while he’s a good soldier, he doesn’t like strife in the ranks and will do whatever he can to avoid it. Major Leroy, the American Tory, and Major Forrest are still with us. Major Hogan has been promoted from engineering to intelligence and is a friend of Richard’s. All three keep singing Sharpe’s praises, so to speak. General Sir Thomas Picton has a cameo.

Capitão Jorge Vicente pops back into Sharpe’s life during the battle at Bussaco (he married Kate from Sharpe’s Havoc, and they have a daughter) and has also taken Sharpe as his role model and carries a rifle.

Major Pedro Ferreira is an exploring officer with the Portuguese army which has provided him with numerous opportunities to make contacts on both sides of the war. His brother Luis Ferreira, a.k.a., Ferragus, is a bully of a man who made his initial fortune slaving and now extorts Portuguese citizens and runs whore houses. Miss Sarah Frey is a young, very uptight Englishwoman working as a governess for the Ferreira family in Coimbra; unfortunately for her, Ferragus has his eye on her. Joana is the victim of a gang rape in progress when the foursome finds her in Coimbra, and she quite happily makes a fifth in their arsonous band.

Marshal André Masséna, Duke of Rivoli and Prince of Essling, is in command of l’Armée de Portugal and more concerned about his very young mistress than he is about scouting the ground upon which his army will be fighting. Marshal Ney is his second-in-command of the French Army.

The Cover and Title

Yet another cover style in this series with its rampaging armies and the fire of musket and cannon across a very narrow bit of ground.

As for the title, yes, it’s Sharpe’s Escape all right and a close one at that.