Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sharpe's Eagles by Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe's Eagles by Bernard Cornwell is listed as the second book in the series. As I've been buying the books from various sources, I've never read them in the correct order.

I can say that those looking for a quick book review, that Bernard Cornwell knows his era. He's able to pull language and scenery that the reader could easily imagine being accurate. His voice for Richard Sharpe and the rest of the cast ring sincere and the pages quickly turn in order to find out what the end result of Sharpe's latest adventure will be.

Sharpe is very much in a 'Conan' or other adventurer in that he is called on for a wide variety of missions, called on to be better than his station should permit, but not quite so good that he easily rises in their ranks. He often finds himself at odds with his 'civilized' superiors and in many aspects, would be much better off in an older world that only rewarded cunning and physical prowess.

Sharpe is in fine shape in this novel. His unusual weapon in play, a saber, among his regular riflemen. It helps him stand out form the regular soldiers. His friend and ally, Harper is also unusual in that he's an Irishman fighting in a English army.  Not to mention Harper's massive size and skill with archaic weapons...

Sharpe also knows how to read. Something that many soldiers in the time do not know how to do.

There are others that have little things about them. Sharpe notes an American... a young lad notable for his very youth, a few others who are notorious pickpockets or other little characteristics that allow the author to quickly ping the character.

These little unusual details help the characters stand out and it's always a good thing to nick for characters in your own game. Imagine if you're playing a group of Chaos Warriors in a Warhammer Fantasy setting and you go against type with a White Blade that never bears any stains? There are others who fall into the 'beautiful' campaign, but they are often on the side of a specific chaos god as opposed to Chaos Undivided.

Sharpe's numerous tales are also filled with a variety of characters who both help and hinder him.

In terms of both, as Sharpe is a soldier, these often include his superior officers.

There is contrast drawn in how promotions are handled. In the British military, payment is often the single greatest indicator of advancement.

Sharpe being an ordinary soldier, often doesn't have that type of money.

On the other hand, looting is a real thing and Sharpe does okay for himself.

But looking again at those promotions, when they are handed out for wealth, this is not an indicator for skill. It is this lack of skill, that puts Sharpe against his superior, a superior officer who does so poorly that to cover his own mistakes, he writes a letter condemning Sharpe for Sharpe's failure in an attack against the French.

So Sharpe has to do something spectacular to overcome this damnation.

This gets to another potential plot point.

Symbols.

The British lose their one of their flags.

Flags are powerful symbols.

Look at war games.

Look at America and the rules and regulations on how flags must be handled.

Think about what losing such a symbol might mean to an army, a nation, or even the characters themselves.

Sharpe resolves that if he can't get his country's flag back, the better thing to do, is to steal an 'Eagle', which is what the French often use as Flags.

If anyone's seen the old show Rome, you might remember there was an episode with an Eagle involved. Again, symbols, and their place, perhaps even if they are not financially valuable, are things of great significance.

In a fantasy setting, such flags may actually have power. They may embolden men against fear (allow people to reroll a failed saving throw) or even make them immune to magical fear. They may protect against mind control or mind reading. The options are limitless.

In a more standard setting, one that might take itself too seriously, characters could be tasked with recovering a flag or making sure it doesn't fall into enemy hands. The value of their pay depending on which option they succeed at.

Of course there's always the opposite. Taking away a flag from an enemy. If the enemy is known to have great reverence for a specific flag, perhaps one flown in the capital city, it may fall to the players as renowned murder hobos, to take this flag from the enemy and teach them their place!