I used to consider myself a voracious reader, back when I was in my teens and twenties. I devoured science fiction at a pretty good rate. However as I’ve gotten older I am reading less and less. The problem, largely, is that I simply don’t have the stamina I used to. Most of my reading is done in the evening as a way of coaxing myself into going to sleep. However that evening reading that used to last thirty minutes, an hour or more if the book was really good, now rarely lasts more than a minute or two. My eyelids slam shut almost immediately, and I drop my book on the floor, scaring the crap out of wife and dog alike. But me, I’m fast asleep by the time they think to chastise me.
I guess it’s not so much that I’ve gotten worse at reading, but that I’ve honed my going-to-sleep skills to perfection. Regardless, I do miss tearing the days when I regularly devoured a book a day. A book a week, or even a month, is more the norm now.
So it’s with pleasure that I’ve found a new author and book series that has resurrected my inner bibliophile. Bernard Cornwell’s novels chronicling the exploits of British infantryman, Richard Sharpe, are, admittedly, a bit formulaic – each of the 20+ books contains equal parts, adventure, intrigue, mayhem, and romance – but they are fun reads, well-suited to airplane travel or nighttime indulgence. And they contain enough real history to indulge satisfy those readers that would normally disdain the fair found on airport bookshelves. (*ahem*)
The series takes place around the time of the Napoleonic Wars (early 1800’s), when Britain is in conflicts in Europe and India, and follows the career of Sharpe as he claws his way up through the ranks of the British Infantry. At the time, officers in Her Majesty’s military are chosen based not by their military prowess, but instead by how much money they had. Commissions are bought for considerable sums and paid for. However Sharpe is neither noble nor privileged. Far from it, he is a rough rogue spat out of London’s nastier streets and orphanages, and begins his career as a Private. His ascent to into the officer’s ranks is unlikely, and nets him more than one enemy.
In each book, Sharpe is immersed in the tensions and politics leading up to a pivotal battle, things for which he has surprisingly little regard given the influence they have on his life. His attention is instead reserved for the men and women closer to hand. To his friends, Sharpe is devoted, to his enemies, he is merciless, and to his lovers? Well, you’ll just have to find out for yourslef. His life is nothing if not a constant struggle against seemingly impossible odds.
Cornwell’s style and pacing makes for easy reading. I’m about halfway through the series, and devouring them at a pace that’s brought a smile to my face. And to my wife’s too, I suppose; for at least a few weeks she and the dog get to enjoy bedtimes unpunctuated by the sound of falling books.
[UPDATE: While there are made-for-television versions of these books, starring Sean Bean (an actor I like), they are horrible. I strongly recommend you avoid watching these if you have even the slightest desire to read the books. The production quality is extremely poor and the dumbed-down plot lines butcher the original stories.]