Captain Richard Sharpe sees action in the battle to keep Cadiz out of the hands of the Corsican Monster.
Basing his story again on historic military action, Cornwell continues the long-running Sharpe series (Sharpe’s Escape, 2004, etc.) with a side trip away from Portugal to southern Spain, where the British are helping the Spanish hold on to the port of Cadiz, their last scrap of sovereign territory. The Anglo-Spanish alliance is an uneasy one; there are plenty of Spaniards who remember when Britain was the enemy—just a few years before. Many believe the British have far-reaching plans to take over trade with Latin America and some so detest the Redcoats that they are willing to cut a deal with Bonaparte that would put a subservient Spanish monarch on the throne. Among the bitterest anti-Brits is a priest, Father Montseny, who has gained possession of letters that could be used to split the allies. They are love letters from the English ambassador to his Spanish girlfriend, used by Montseny both to blackmail the ambassador, younger brother of Lord Wellington, and to inflame the populace. Montseny intends to alter their content to suggest plans for British treachery against Spain. Sharpe, under the command of the stubborn and inimical Brigadier Moon, has just made a spectacular escape from the French, destroying a critical bridge on his way off the battlefield. Reeling from a last-minute bullet to the brainpan, he becomes involved in the struggle to regain the letters, working alongside some murderously tough Irish soldiers, his trusty Sergeant Harper and a gay diplomatic spy. The business with the letters leads him straight into the crucial battle at Cerro del Puerco, where the greatly outnumbered Brits, under a wonderfully heroic Scots general, face the French at the Battle of Barossa while the Spanish enjoy a picnic.
The confusion of battle is, unsurprisingly, confusing. But Cornwell has this stuff down cold, so it’s great fun even with all the smoke and noise.