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Title: Sharpe's Regiment
Subtitle: Richard Sharpe and the Invasion of France, June to November 1813.
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 0-00-617452-3
Price: £6.99
Classification: Historical Fiction/Military Fiction

Part of the Sharpe series of books this book comes after the events of Sharpe's Honour but before Sharpe's Siege. The book takes place in England (which is strange considering the sub title that Cornwell gives it) and has much less of the blood bath that takes place in most of the Sharpe series. However, fans of the books will be most pleased to be taken back in time to before Sharpe joined the army. I personally always love delving back into the history which made a particular character. It also gives an interesting look into life in England that is rarely touched on in the other Sharpe books.

The book starts with Major Richard Sharpe fighting to keep his men alive. Not from the troublesome Frenchies but from the goons back in England. The way that the regimental system worked was that a first battalion was raised to go do the fighting. While the first battalion were away, more officers at the headquarters would start to raise a second battalion. This second battalion was supposed to be the reserves; training while they awaited orders asking for reinforcements. However, Sharpe hasn't recieved his troops and therefore is seriously undermanned. Wellesley has brought him back from the line to guard grain, something Sharpe is not happy about especially with the upcoming prospect of pushing into France. Rather than sit and hope for the arrival of his second battalion Sharpe is given orders by Major General Nairn to go find his troops.

The reader is then flung into the gritty world of London, politics and the recruitment process for the army. Let's just say that none of them are particularily nice and leads to enough Sharpe problem solving as ever there is in one of the Sharpe series. Just because he's in England doesn't mean he plays nice. In fact the culmination of the book at the great parade is highly amusing and very Sharpe.

I have to admit that I loved this book. I actually didn't have it in my colletion and only read it recently after noticing the ommission. I didn't pick it up initially because I thought it would be sub par being set in England without hacking and slashing. How wrong I could be. Cornwell takes the reader to many a different place in this book and they are not all pretty. It often feels like Sharpe's Tiger or Sharpe's Fortress because there is little emphasis on any of the other normal characters. Though Harper is present for the story he is not a main character (though there is one part in the book where he is fending for himself) and much of the action takes place with Sharpe in predicaments on his own.

There is a lot of detail in this book which I found very interesting. The whole structure of the British army as well as the recruitment process/tricks make this book very useful for anyone who is historically interested in the era. There are also details of the drill procedure that was taught to the troops as well as a description of the illegal practice of 'crimping'. You may want to have a copy of Sharpe's Companion as well since it has pictures and more details on these aspects of the army.

So are there any criticisms of this book? Well though I thoroughly enjoyed it, others who are wanting the normal Sharpe-in-foriegn-country-shooting-people-with-his-trusty-rifle will find this wanting. Bernard Cornwell does a stirling job of keeping this thoroughly exciting but it may not be what some people want. Though this isn't really a criticism, merely an expression of negative feeling that I had towards the character, I often found myself rather annoyed with Sharpe. He may be the heroic figure on the battlefield but here in England he seems to lose his grace and charm to a degree. Though this is integral to his character I did find myself cringing once or twice as he made an absolute muppet of himself.

These are small and mostly non-existant criticisms of the book. I recommend it for any Sharpe fan and it is even relatively easy to pick up if you have never read any of the Sharpe books (though you really should read them all) since it doesn't rely on you knowing what happened in other books. Monumental events that happened before are recollected by other characters in the book making it easy to read without a thorough background.

Over the next week I intend on compiling a Sharpe series node to group together the sharpe novels in a single place. This will also hold more information on all the different books relating to Sharpe and hopefully some history/information on the series as a whole (so not just a plain ol' metanode). However, I'm leaving this to next week when I'll be at home with a better net connection and all my books.

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