Book Review: Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Prey: Denmark, 1807

Posted November 9, 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 Prey: Denmark, 1807

arpe's Prey: Denmark, 1807


Bernard Cornwell

historical fiction, military fiction that was published by HarperCollins on April 23, 2001 and has 261 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, Sharpe's Rifles, Sharpe's Havoc: Portugal 1809, Sharpe’s Eagle, Sharpe’s Escape: Richard Sharpe and the Bussaco Campaign, 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

Fifth in the Richard Sharpe military fiction series revolving around a poor orphan who escaped a hanging for murder by enlisting in the military.

My Take

A peek at the diplomatic and cutthroat maneuvering employed behind the scenes before overt war breaks out between Britain and France. Talk about nasty! The Treaty of Tilsit signed between Russia and France contained a secret clause that gave the Danish navy to the French. The fact that Russia had no rights to it was beside the point. And the French weren’t objecting as they had to replace the ships they lost at Trafalgar. Nor do I blame the British for wanting to keep the French from getting all those ships.

I do think the Danes were rather naive in thinking they would be able to hang onto their ships. Cornwell suggests that the original offer from the British was to use the ships, and then return them exactly as they were when the war was over. The Danes would have been better off negotiating with the British to use the ships, return them as per original packaging, and help protect them from the French army sitting on their border. As it was, the Danes simply cut their own throats.

Richard’s “recruitment” is all very last minute, and yet the powers-that-be have enough time to inquire as to Richard’s character and abilities, which brings Sharpe to their attention setting the series up for Sharpe’s continued advancement.

An interesting look at war from the foot soldier’s perspective and a comparison of city militia with British precision. The British professionalism always brings to mind how poorly they fared against the Americans in the Revolutionary War. I think if the 95th Rifles had been initiated much earlier and employed against the Americans, we would have had a harder time winning. As it was, the British custom of buying ranks and not promoting for merit, along with its heavy tilt toward patronage and the usual stupid belief in the superiority of the upper class, hampered the lobsterbacks’ abilities with lousy leadership. A poor leadership which continued on through World War I.

Sorry, gone off on a tangent. The original topic was an on-the-ground perspective, and with Richard sneaking out of Copenhagen with the city militia, we have the ideal opportunity to see how untrained men fare against trained troops. Truly a killing field.

Then there’s the ruthless actions undertaken by Richard at the start and Pumps at the end. Not really a lot of difference between the two, but Pumps had better pray Richard never finds out!

The Story

Grace’s death has left Richard Sharpe angry at the world, so it comes as no surprise that he’s not getting on with the officers in the 95th Rifles. When Richard is assigned as quartermaster, he decides he’ll sell his commission and start over elsewhere. Fate, however, takes a hand when, needing a stake, Richard gets his revenge against the Master at the orphanage where Richard grew up for the chase after him lands him at the Frogs Prick, a pub frequented by officers. Where General Baird accidentally stumbles over him and recruits him for a special mission — escorting an aide to the Duke of York with 43,0000 gold guineas to bribe the Crown Prince of Denmark.

Caught up in diplomatic maneuvering, the street-smart but naive Sharpe is conflicted as to whether he should simply show up at British headquarters with a failed mission or continue on and find the traitor. It’s his stubbornness and fear of ridicule that pushes him on inside the city, which ends up providing Sharpe with a wealth of information he passes on to his superiors.

And causes them to find Richard increasingly useful.

The Characters

Lieutenant Richard Sharpe wants nothing more than to be out of the British army. Fed up with being an officer. Fed up with being unwanted. Angry with the loss of Grace.

Captain/Major John Lavisser is the younger son of an earl, the grandson of a Dane, and an aide to the Duke of York. Chosen for his contacts in the Danish court, Lavisser is to convince/bribe the Crown Prince of Denmark to allow the British to “borrow” the Danish fleet before the French take it. For this purpose, the Crown has provided Lavisser with 43,000 gold guineas. His compatriot in crime is Barker, a self-admitted footpad.

Ole Skovgaard is at the center of a web of spies in Copenhagen. As a merchant, he constantly receives information from around the world. When it concerns French movements, he passes it on to the British. The current situation has Skovgaard conflicted on three fronts: he is loyal to Denmark, he hates the French, but now, with the British at the entrance to the harbor, well, he’s not too happy with them either. His widowed daughter, Astrid, helps him in both his undercover activities as well as working the accounts for the warehouse. Aksel Bang works for Skovgaard and has an eye to marrying the pretty widow. And he doesn’t like Sharpe for some reason.

Major General Sir David Baird remembers Sharpe’s resourcefulness as well as his decisiveness, and needing a strong escort for Major Lavisser, dragoons him into the role. Lord Pumphrey, a.k.a., Pumps, is a very secretive, ruthless, and intelligent man in the Foreign Office who makes good use of Sharpe. General Arthur Wellesley makes a brief appearance. Captain Joel Chase and his crew make a very welcome appearance as well (from Sharpe’s Trafalgar, 4).

The Cover and Title

The cover is in the style of the previous story, Sharpe’s Trafalgar with two, assumably, British ships rocking in the waters off Denmark firing on Copenhagen.

The title is appropriate as Richard needs to take his anger out on someone and who better than Sharpe’s Prey, the man who thought he could take Lt. Sharpe.