Book Review: Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Honor

Posted September 14, 2012 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 Honor

Sharpe's Honor


Bernard Cornwell

historical fiction, military fiction in Paperback edition that was published by Penguin on April 1, 2001 and has 320 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 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 Regiment

Sixteenth in the Richard Sharpe historical military fiction series revolving around Major Richard Sharpe and the Peninsular War against Napoleon with this story set in Vitoria, Spain, in 1813.

My Take

It starts brutally, slips into cleverness, and then wallows in the greed of a priest with dreams of becoming a cardinal. Being a priest is no guarantee of being a Christian as Hacha proves.

The story starts with a battle and ends with another. One in which the men can become rich beyond their wildest dreams while other men’s dreams are destroyed. One in which Richard proves again that he’s a fool for a woman. In between is invasion, escape, fighting, trickery, and too many prison cells.

I do love Cornwell’s characters. Richard certainly has a sliding scale of honor, but it’s there where and when it counts. I do enjoy the respect with which Richard is held by [almost] everyone from generals on down to privates. I also enjoy how uncomfortable it makes him! I don’t think Richard will ever be able to understand the esteem his fellow soldiers have for him. Sure, Cornwell has taken liberties with his characters and the battles, but he has preserved the feel for the time period and being on a battlefield. I sure can empathize with the cold, hard ground at night and the way Cornwell describes the cold, the heat, and the dust makes me grateful for today’s conveniences!

It’s the most comfortable way I can imagine for experiencing battle and laying siege. It’s terrifying enough just reading Cornwell’s words and makes me very grateful to soldiers everywhere.

The Story

The story begins with our introduction to El Matarife, priming us for the terror of the knife fight at the end of a chain and continues with the very worried Trumper-Jones wondering if Sharpe really means to surrender.

It’s the Treaty of Valençay, named for the chateau where the Spanish king is held prisoner. A clever move to force the British out of Spain. One of Ducos’ plans and he’s working a series of scams one of which is the destruction of Major Sharpe with La Puta Dorada‘s help.

Forcing Sharpe into a corner where he must defend his honor or lose it.

The Characters

Major Richard Sharpe commands a half-battalion of the South Essex Light Company and is viewed by other men as “a soldier’s soldier, a man whose approval was eagerly sought by other men, whose name was used as a touchstone of professional competence”. Even by the French! Teresa has been dead for a few months now, and his daughter, Antonia, is growing up motherless with her aunt and uncle.

His men in the South Essex Light Company include…
Sergeant Patrick Harper, a huge Irishman from Donegal and still living in sin with Isabella (see Sharpe’s Company, 13); Captain Peter d’Alembord, an accomplished duellist; Sergeant Huckfield; Captain William Frederickson, a.k.a., Sweet William, is half-German, half-English, a fearsome soldier with an eye for beauty, and has the charge of Sharpe’s few Riflemen; Collip is the quartermaster who really needs to think before he leaps; Paddock is Sharpe’s Battalion clerk; Regimental Sergeant Major MacLaird; and, Lieutenant Harry Price is still alive. Lieutenant-Colonel Leroy has been promoted and is now in command of the South Essex. Major Joseph Forrest has been sent to Lisbon to help organize stores.

Major Michael Hogan is Sharpe’s friend and the general’s chief of intelligence. Angel is Hogan’s spy, and he’s lending him to Sharpe for this mission. The Marquess of Wellington, Grandee of Spain, Duque de Ciudad Rodrigo in Spain and Duque da Victoria in Portugal is in command of all the armies. Major Vaughn is the prosecutor in his trial with General Sir Edward Pakenham presiding. Poor Lieutenant Michael Trumper-Jones…he gets introduced to a Sharpe he had never expected would surrender!

Helene Leroux, a.k.a., La Puta Dorada, is the Marquesa de Casares el Grande y Melida Sadaba and a spy for Napoleon (see Sharpe’s Sword). Luis, the Marqués, is a Grandee of Spain, its new hero, a general, and Helene’s husband newly returned from Brazil, and currently at Wellington’s side. And easily led by the Church. Major Miguel Mendora is the marqués’ errand boy delivering the challenge. Ferdinand VII is the imprisoned Spanish king whom Napoleon will return to Spain. On certain conditions. General Raoul Verigny is her current protector. Major Montbrun is a French officer and wants to make a deal with Sharpe.

Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan is in command of the French army at Burgos.

Major Pierre Ducos is Napoleon’s primary intelligence officer. Egotistical and confident in his immense superiority. Only Napoleon has his respect; all others are well beneath his regard or consideration. And he loathes Sharpe with a passion.

El Matarife, a.k.a., The Slaughterman, a.k.a., Juan Hacha, is Father Hacha’s brother and a partisan leader. He’s not averse to enriching himself at the expense of his country or countrymen. Pedro Pelera is another partisan, but not a friend of El Matarife. Father Tomas Hacha is an Inquisitor for the Catholic Church in Spain, but more interested in his rise to power and restoring his family’s fortunes.

The Cover and Title

The cover is one of the charcoal sketches with Sharpe rising up from the bottom and visible from the shoulders on up. He’s holding his sword straight up at the level of his chin.

The title truly is about Sharpe’s Honor and the lengths he will go to retain it.