27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Some nine books into his Napoleonic series, Cornwell pauses here to return to the beginning of Sharpe's association with the 95th Rifles. In 1809 French forces were sweeping the British out of the Spain in a full retreat to Portugal. Sharpe is a Lieutenant, and a lowly quartermaster at that, but through a series of mishaps and skirmishes, he finds himself in command of the tattered remnants of a Rifle Company cut off from the main British army. These men, led by the indominitable Irishman Harper, are demoralized, distrustful of Sharpe, and waver on mutinousness. We see his first clumsy attempts at leading men, as he tries to get them to safety. Their momentary alliance with a Spanish Major who is escorting a mysterious strongbox only leads to more trouble as the combined forces are dogged by a unit of French Cavalry intent on capturing the box. Of course, over time, the contents of the box are revealed and a thrilling city battle is fought. We also see Sharpe's first awkward falling in love, with the niece of some British missionaries (who provide some of the most comic moments in the entire series). It's a good prequel to Sharpe's adventures in the Peninsular Wars, and while it makes a logical place for newcomers to start the series, it might actually be more fun for those who have already gotten to know Sharpe and Harper.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2001
If you have read other Sharpe books, you will realize right away that the story goes back to the time before "Sharpe's Eagle". It serves to set the stage and introduce the characters that will populate the series thoughout the campaigns in Portugal and Spain. If you haven't read any other Sharpe stories and you like Historical Fiction that are enjoyable reads you are going to enjoy it.
Don't get me wrong, as a story it stands alone quite well. Readable and entertaining are the first thoughts that come to mind. The battles/fights seem to be historically accurate as well as well written (not always the case with storied written about this time period). The characters are understandable, without appearing to be twentieth-century men being transported to another era. As Sharpe grows as a commander, you both empathise with his problems and cheer his accomplishments.
The whole series is worth reading, and this a great prequel to the timeframe where most of the action takes place.... and there will be quite a lot of it!
PS... The books are better than the BBC series.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2000
Sharpe's Rifles is the place to start with Bernard Cornwell's gripping series of adventures which follow the career of Richard Sharpe, an officer in Wellington's army. Sharpe is unusual for an officer in Britain's army in the 19th Century - he was promoted from the ranks in a time when this was exceedingly rare. These novels follow Sharpe's career through the Peninsula war, culminating with the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.
In Sharpe's Rifles we meet the new Lieutenant Richard Sharpe as he is struggling to earn the respect of his fellow officers and the men he commands. As we meet him he is serving as a quartermaster, as the popular prejudice was that officers promoted from the ranks took to drink and could not be trusted in a fighting command. We learn that he is in fact an experienced professional soldier and won his commission by an act of bravery on the battlefield, so he is seething with frustration and a sense of injustice at his lot. During a disastrous retreat from Napoleon's pursuing troops Sharpe finds himself in command of a company of survivors separated from the main army. During the journey in which he leads the men back to safety (with a detour to help the Spanish guerillas and capture a town) he learns how to command and earns the respect he craves. We also see the birth of the friendship between Sharpe and Sergeant Harper, which is central to the rest of the series.
Once I had started I found it impossible to put this book down, and then dashed out and bought the rest of the series. The story is gripping, the pace fast, and the characterisation excellent - Sharpe is no one-dimensional action man and his character continues to develop throughout the series. Cornwell is a very well-informed military historian and I learned a great deal about an era with which I was previously unfamiliar.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
'Sharpe's Rifles' is the first of Bernard Cornwell's orginal Richard Sharpe series and is a wonderful start. Here we meet for the first time the maverick British officer Richard Sharpe and his tough-as-nails companion Sergeant Harper. The story takes place during the British retreat from Spain in 1809. French victory seems certain. Lieutnant Sharpe is seperated from his unit and forced to command a rag tag company of riflemen, who have little love for thier new leader, though enemy territory back to the British lines. On top of these worries, Spanish partisans insist that the British escort them to a remote village where they believe victory over the French is possible. This is a novel that takes you back in time to the desperate days in the struggle against Napoleon. Even if historical novels aren't your thing the adventure alone is worth the read.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2000
I am a history teacher and I am very serious about historical details. The characters in this book may not be real, but that makes no difference. The book is well written, the characters are complex, and the story line is steeped with historical detail. Cornwall is a fantastic writer who seems to capture the feeling of the Napoleonic Wars as if he were there himself. This book introduces the reader to Richard Sharpe and Patrick Harper, two of the best written characters in modern fiction. The action starts almost immediately as Sharpe takes over the 95th Rifles. Your heart won't stop racing until the final page. Sharpe and Harper have grabbed my imagination as does the back drop of 19th century Spain. This is a must read for any student of the Napoleonic Wars.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Bernard Cornwell's magnificent Richard Sharpe series continues on with "Sharpe's Rifles," set in the mountains of Spain in 1809. Sharpe is still a despised quartermaster in the 95th Rifles, but tragedy and war provide him with the opportunity to learn and prove that he is a true leader of men.
Bernard Cornwell has famously written the Sharpe series out of chronological order, so for many readers "Sharpe's Rifles" is a prequel. Not so for me -- I've been fortunate enough to start the series with "Sharpe's Tiger," so "Sharpe's Rifles" falls into the natural progression for me. After reading some of the other reviews, I sense that as a prequel, "Sharpe's Rifles" was a touch disappointing. I do not share these sentiments.
"Rifles" finds Sharpe in the ultra-violent clash between loyal Spaniards and their English allies on the one side and the French with their traitorous Spanish allies on the other. This is no-holds-barred combat, and the French are not above razing entire villages to the ground after putting all men, women and children to the sword. To top it off, the war is being fought in the dead of winter, where freezing cold kills as many soldiers and civilians as swords and bullets.
Sharpe finds himself the only surviving officer in a group of surviving Riflemen, and while he has the rank, he does not have the respect of the men. Mired hundreds of miles from home, seemingly cut off from any escape route, Shapre seems doomed to lead his men into disaster . . . for which he will likely receive a bullet in the back from one of his belligerent subordinates.
Things change when Sharpe meets up with a dashing Spanish officer charged with a sacred duty -- to protect a symbol of Spain's religious fervor that is guaranteed to unite the populace in a charge against the hated French. The only problem is that the Spanish officer is being hunted by one of France's most sadistic and clever officers, and he will stop at nothing before he retrieves the relic.
It is all here for fans of Cornwell's work -- the amazing battle scenes, Sharpe's struggles with his doubts, the compelling cast of supporting characters, and a lovely woman who steals Sharpe's heart. Pulsating with the power of the Spanish mountains, "Sharpe's Rifles" is action-packed, funny, and surprisingly elevated with its respect for Spain's hyper-religious culture. Indeed, it is the "rational" French who are the villains here.
You should read "Sharpe's Rifles," but based on the other reviews I've read, you should read it in chronological order with the other books - check out Cornwell's website for an updated list.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2002
After reading a number of C.S Forester's Hornblower series, I realized the appreciation I have for historical fiction that contains a main character's development throughout that particular historical era. The Sharpe's series is just another superb example of this.
This book is the first volume of the series, but not the first chronologically in the series. I personally would have preferred to start with 'Sharpe's Tiger' which is where Richard Sharpe begins his career as a Rifleman as a Private. Then continuing the readings chronologically following his military career.
In Sharpe's Rifles, LT. Richard Sharpe (formerly known as SGT. Sharpe) becomes the commanding officer of a small detachment of Rifleman whom becomes separated from a retreating British Army in Spain. While retreating, Sharpe is confronted with the difficulties of adjusting to the role of an Officer while being harassed from a persistent attachment of French Dragoons. His difficulties increase exponentially when Sharpe gains a common ally against France, a small attachment of Spanish Calvary. Sharpe learns that the Spanish Calvary attachment is on a quest to reunite Spain's demoralization with a sacred item that must reach Santiago to give Spain one last fighting chance against the invading French.
The smell of smoke, the war cries of combat, and the fate of brave men are well embedded throughout the book. This is an action packed book, page-turner that I would recommend to all interested in this era!
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2007
This is the first of the Sharpe novels set in the Peninsular War (1808 - 1813), which forms the main scene of his fictional exploits. It tells of how Sharpe, landing in command of a small, isolated, and defeated force of riflemen after all the other officers were killed in battle, leads his mutinous force to safety, and on the way to a battle fought to fulfill an ancient prophecy.
It is written to the standard Sharpe formula. There are several battles, well described, a girl who Sharpe falls for but doesn't win, colorful and occasionally comical characters introduced for Sharpe to play off against, and a treacherous villain. The formula is predictable, and ought to be more boring than it is, but Cornwall executes it skillfully. His one weakness is in creating female characters, and the one in this story is rather more high spirited and adventurous than seems realistic for a woman of this period. The Spanish Don who recruits Sharpe as an ally to carry out his rather desperate plan is a more successful invention.
There are presently 5 other Sharpe novels written after this but earlier in chronological sequence, and the continuity is by no means seamless. For instance, Sharpe here gives an account of his past battles, but somehow forgets that he was at Trafalgar, as well as his role in Denmark only a few months earlier. In general, the Sharpe of this book is too green, too immature, and too short of self confidence to match the younger Sharpe portrayed in the more recent books.
Cornwall does have some tendency to simply wish away problems he doesn't want to work out solutions to. After the major battle in the book, Sharpe's men are far from British lines, in an area filled with French forces who now know their location. But Cornwall's story is almost over and he doesn't really want to deal with that, so he simply assumes that Sharpe is able to get through Spain without encountering the enemy and fast forwards to his return to British lines.
Regular readers of the series will find what they expect and enjoy. For those new to the sequence, this was written to be a starting point and would probably work better read that way than as a sequel to "Sharpe's Prey".
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2005
The Sharpe's series is historical fiction at its best. Cornwell does a thorough, scholarly job for his books and Sharpe and the other characters are wonderful. The reader of the audio books, Frederick Davidson, is one of the best in the business. He has mastered every character in the series: Sharpe, the product of the lowest London class as well as the French, the upper crust British, the lower and uppercrust Irish, the Spanish Grandees and the foot soldiers, the Germans, etc.
I love the Cornwell books. I enjoyed the PBS series. The best, however, is the audio version read by Frederick Davidson. It brings to light a wonderful group of books
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2005
Sharpe's Rifles was the first in Bernard Cornwell's acclaimed Sharpe series. We first meet Lt. Richard Sharpe, he is the quartermaster of the 95th Rifles on their retreat from a horrific defeat at the hands of the French. After a surprise attack by French cavalry decimated Sharpe's regiment, he is left in command with a surly command. There is the threat mutiny from an Irish private names Patrick Harper and a dangerous journey against an implacable enemy. Somehow Sharpe must pull together his shattered regiment outwit a relentless pursuer and deal with Methodist missionaries. Here is the adventure that started it all.