|Series||Richard Sharpe stories|
|8 May 1995|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback) and audio-CD|
|Pages||288 pp (hardcover edition)|
368 pp (paperback edition)
|ISBN||0-00-224307-5 (hardcover edition)|
ISBN 0-00-647324-5 (paperback edition)
|Preceded by||Sharpe's Fury|
|Followed by||Sharpe's Company|
Near the Spanish-Portuguese border, Sharpe and his company meet a group of French soldiers in grey uniforms, caught in the act of raping a young Spanish villager. Their leader Brigadier-General Guy Loup arranges a parlay to retrieve his men, but Sharpe, appalled by the rape and massacre of all the other villagers, including children, orders the French prisoners shot. Loup swears revenge against Sharpe.
Back at headquarters, Sharpe is informed by Major Michael Hogan that the Real Compania Irlandesa, the royal bodyguard of the captive King of Spain have escaped from Madrid to enlist with the native Spanish armies. As the British wish for Wellesley to be made Generalissimo of the Spanish Armies, it is imperative that the Compania be treated with honour, but as the Royal Guard are drawn entirely from Irish exiles bitterly opposed to the British occupation of their homeland, they pose a risk to the security of the British army. Sharpe is ordered to take them to a far away fort and drill them mercilessly in order to encourage desertion, while the Wagon Master-General Colonel Claude Runciman, a monstrously fat and idolent man, is appointed to soothe the pride of the Compania's Spanish and Irish officers.
Unfortunately Pierre Ducos, a French intelligence officer, has placed an agent within the Compania Irlandesa, Dona Juanita de Elia, a Spanish noblewoman, the mistress both of the Compania's commander, Lord Kiely, and of Loup. Rumours of British atrocities in Ireland, backed up by forged American newspapers, seem to ensure the Compania will desert, as planned, but Sharpe finds it hard to resist his instincts to turn the demoralised exiles into real soldiers. He persuades Runciman to divert arms and ammunition to the Compania, and conspires with a local partisan, El Castrador, to kill and mutilate a party of deserters to deter the rest.
The Compania are joined at the fort by a Portuguese infantry battalion. Sharpe, concerned by the threat posed by Loup's personal vendetta against him, is forced to confess to the illegal execution of Loup's men. That night, Loup attacks the fort, massacres the Portuguese, and is only driven off by the explosion of the ammunition wagons, set alight by Sharpe's friend, Tom Garrard who sacrifices himself in the process.
Sharpe's earlier confession and the imminent enquiry into the disaster threaten to end Sharpe's career. To avoid this, Sharpe attacks Loup's hideout but finds it deserted, except for the Dona Juanita, who is exposed as the enemy agent, and courier of the forged newspapers. Sharpe sleeps with Juanita, and lets her go the following morning, thus frustrating Hogan's hopes of uncovering her accomplice in the Compania.
The disgraced Kiely commits suicide, and his funeral is presided over by the Regiment's chaplain, Father Sarsfield. In a private conversation over the open grave, Hogan informs Sarsfield that he is aware of his treachery, but lacks proof. Sarsfield attempts to kill Hogan, but is shot by Sharpe, and buried with Kiely.
Wellington concentrates his forces on the village of Fuentes de Onoro. Still in disgrace, Sharpe, Runciman and the Real Compania Irlandese are left guarding the ammunition wagons. Concentrated French assaults push the British out of the village and back steadily up the hill. Wellington releases his reserves, the 74th, 45th and the 88th Connaught Rangers, who beat back the French into the village. However, the British are in turn counter-attacked by the Loup Brigade. With Sharpe's encouragement, Runciman "offers" to lead the Spanish Regiment to reinforce the Highlanders and Connaught Rangers. They are successful, and as the Loup Brigade falters the French fall back, and Wellington sends the line forward, winning the battle.
Loup and Sharpe duel in the ford over the river. At a crucial moment in the fight, Sharpe is shot and wounded by the Dona Juanita, who is in turn killed by Harper. Despite his wound, Sharpe disarms and drowns Loup. The Real Compania Irlandese are sent to the Spanish Junta in Cadiz with honour and Wellington becomes Generalissimo of the Spanish armies. The case against Sharpe and Runciman is dropped, in light of their bravery, and lack of evidence.
References to other novels
- Loup pleaded for the lives of his men in much the same way that Sharpe has done in previous novels. Vengeance is not a characteristic lacking in Sharpe.
- Garrard and Sharpe met in Sharpe's Tiger in the ranks. They both stayed in the army, but Garrard enlisted in the Portuguese Army where he was promoted to Captain. We see the contrast between the reluctance of the British Army to have commissioned officers from the ranks, while the Portuguese army encourages the practice. Had Sharpe enlisted in the Portuguese army, he would likely have been a Major, instead of a Captain. As it was Sharpe and Harper who blew up the magazine in Almeida in Sharpe's Gold, Garrard's selfless act is an interesting twist.
- After engaging in a scuffle in Loup's bedroom, Sharpe and Juanita have sex. She steals Perkins' jacket before she leaves the hideout. Perkins, a teenage Rifleman, is featured in the television series but this is the first novel (as written; second, per historical sequence) where he appears. In the first Sharpe novel written, Sharpe's Eagle, Cornwell features a teenage Rifleman named Pendleton (who dies at Talavera). In this novel, set two years after Talavera, Pendleton is again mentioned.This is likely a mistake by Cornwell, who has admitted not to have re-read "Eagle". In a similar vein, the earlier novel Sharpe's Rifles had featured a rifleman named Cooper who was killed during the retreat to Corunna. The character survived and became a recurring character in the television adaptations and reappears in this novel (and others set after Corunna) without any explanation. In a further nod to the television series, the novel is dedicated to Sean Bean who portrays Sharpe.
- Runciman never appears in any subsequent book and we are told was sent to England to become commander of the Militia.
Film & TV Adaptations
This novel was dramatised on ITV in 1995 and is a relatively faithful adaptation of the novel. Pierre Ducos and Fr. Sarsfield do not appear in the film and Lord Kiely had no wife in the novel. The plot remains largely the same with regard to the French circulating newspapers describing massacres in Ireland by British troops in the hope that Irish soldiers will desert. Major Munro clearly reprises the role of Major Hogan in the novel. The film ends with the destruction of the Loup Brigade and does not deal with the events of Fuentes de Onoro. Kiely is taken from behind by Loup and fatally stabbed in contrast to committing suicide in the book; also Rifleman Perkins is given a poignant death while in the book he survives.