Monday, December 18, 2017

The continuing story of Richard Sharpe

Sharpe's Triumph (Sharpe, #2)Sharpe's Triumph by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few years back I read most of Bernard Cornwell's action-packed serial adventure series on the Napoleonic Wars. I read through to what felt like a fairly satisfactory end and then I quit for a few years. Recently I noticed I still had about a half dozen books to go, and so when I came across Sharpe's Triumph, the second book in the series and the first I hadn't read yet, I figured it was time to get reacquainted with an old friend. It's so good to be back with Ol' Sharpie!

Richard Sharpe was an orphan from the London workhouses. He's a tough fighter, who escapes life-threatening danger time and again through wit, bravery and brawn. Mostly he wins by kicking ass, sometimes literally. However, at the start of the series, he's a lowly private in the army, who's never seen action. Reading about how he became who he eventually became was answered in book one to a small extent, but Cornwell went a step farther with it in book two.

Having seen the tv show starring Sean Bean based on these books, I knew how lowly Sgt Sharpe became an officer. That is a very big deal, because someone born to such a low station in life as Sharpe would not generally rise into the officer ranks. That's just not how the British army worked back then. It took an incredibly stupid brave act of daring to rise from the rank and file to become an officer. You basically had to step to the very edge of suicide and survive to make it happen. Sharpe's feat in this regard is detailed within this book and it differs slightly from how it was portrayed on the tv show. Nice to finally get that cleared up.

Book one felt quite strange to me, probably because it is set in India and most all of the others are set in Europe, usually Spain or France. Book two is also set in India, but it definitely feels more like a standard Sharpe book. Perhaps that's because there are huge set-piece battles led by Arthur Wellesley, aka the Duke of Wellington. It also includes plot mainstays like a damsel in distress, a conniving compatriot with a personal vendetta, and a pompous and/or cruel aristocratic officer or two, all of whom manage to make Sharpe's life hell.

I haven't read these books in order, which is perhaps wrong of me since they follow a chronological order. But then again, Cornwell didn't write these in order, so if he's not going to lead by example, how am I suppose to follow? Damn it, I demand authorial leadership! I kid. I'm honestly just happy he wrote these at all. It's been an absolute pleasure reading about Sharpe's adventures.

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Cloning Tolkien

The Sword of Shannara (The Original Shannara Trilogy, #1)The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

How is it Terry Brooks did not get sued by the Tolkien estate for this book? He went to law school, how could he not see the lawsuit in this?

The Sword of Shannara parallels the Lord of the Rings series on so many points it's laughable. About a third of the way in I began to feel deja vu, like I was rereading The Fellowship of the Ring. There are best-bud insignificant protagonists, who are told to go on an adventure by a mysterious wizardy type guy. During the mini-starter adventure they nearly get done in by undeadish dudes and meet a ranger, who is an aloof royal. They meet back up in a safe haven (dwarf this time, not elf) to discuss who and how they shall proceed in their questing against the ultimate evil "dark lord". The similarities go on and on, but I'll stop here, because I'm getting annoyed just thinking about it, as well as bored and I fear you may be, too.

The writing isn't good. Adverbs abound. I know there's an anti anti-adverb movement out there right now, but trust me people, your motives are misguided. You think the uptight lit nazis are going overboard, but I assure you, you do not want to read sloppy, lazy writing. I swear, too many times in this book will you find lines like: "Blah, blah, blah," the sad hero said sadly. Seriously, there was a "sad" and "sadly" together in the same sentence in reference to the same person at one point in this book. It was sad.

The narration was annoying. I had to go with the audiobook on this one though. There's no way I would've finished it otherwise. However, Scott Brick threw up a brick on this one. He's usually good for non-fiction works, but his attempt at accents was laughable (Is this character supposed to be Scottish or Liverpudlian? Oops, never mind! Apparently he's Cockney) and his dramatic reading was overwrought. In fact, now that I think about it, he's always on the edge of melodramatic inflection.

The version I went with was annotated, so every once in a while Brooks himself would pop on to give some insight into the book. When Brick read the first line and then Brooks interrupted, I didn't think I was going to make it, not at that snail's pace. However, the pace did pick up and Brooks' quick and tidy additions provided mostly enjoyable and an occasionally informative interludes.

But hey, enough of my yakkin'! The fact is, this is an epic work with some interesting elements, some of which do tarry from LotR territory. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I feel like Brooks' heart was in the right place. And if nothing else, he was young, enthusiastic and inexperienced. For his legion of fans, it's for the best this book was not buried in legal proceedings and that its author was able to launch a long and fruitful career, for which many readers are grateful.

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