Book review: Sharpe’s Assassin by Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Assassin by Bernard Cornwell

This is an example of a book which is held aloft by the previous 20 novels in the series. In all honesty, it’s not a great story. Set in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo, the story is ostensibly about Sharpe’s mission to save the victorious Duke of Wellington from being assassinated in Paris by a group of fanatical Bonapartists. The story hits the usual beats of a Sharpe story: dastardly villain, beautiful love interest, class struggles, battles and fights. But the villain is leavened by Sharpe’s admiration for a fellow rascal (Cornwell has evidently realised that no villain will ever match Obadiah Hakeswill), the love interest is Sharpe’s wife, the class struggle, in a nice touch, is with the officer who ordered Sharpe whipped in India when he was still an ordinary soldier, and the fights are small-scale skirmishes in Paris.

The story premise tries to set high stakes but fails because the idea of a group of die-hard Bonapartists plotting to assassinate the Peer comes across as faintly ludicrous. But the story works because we get to spend more time with Sharpe and Harper and, having read 20 previous novels about them, I and many other readers simply enjoy their company. So that is why the novel works: because we get to meet old friends again, friends we feared we would never meet again. Thank you, Mr Cornwell, and I hope you might allow us a further look into their lives after the end of war.


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