Top 14 Best Sharpe Novels by Bernard Cornwell

Painting depicting the Napoleonic Wars.

Robert Alexander Hillingford/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels mix adventure, violence, and history to bestselling effect. Originally a series about British Rifleman Richard Sharpe during the Napoleonic Wars, prequels have taken the hero to India, while one post-war plot featured an older Sharpe meeting Napoleon and fighting in Chile. This is a purely subjective list of my favorite Sharpe books, with a couple of related items.

01
of 14

Sharpe's Eagle

1809. After witnessing the South Essex lose their colors to the French, Sharpe is temporarily promoted to captain and given command of the South Essex's light company. These green soldiers need training for a forthcoming battle, but Sharpe has other things on his mind: a promise he made to a dying soldier that he'd restore his new regiment's honor by capturing a French Eagle standard.

02
of 14

Sharpe's Sword

1812. Not only is Captain Sharpe leading his light company in numerous assaults, but he's also pursuing an Imperial Guard officer who is in turn hunting for a British spy. Despite an almost fatal wound to the main protagonist, matters come to a conclusion at the Battle of Salamanca.

03
of 14

Sharpe's Enemy

1812. Now a Major, Sharpe leads a small force against deserters who have taken hostages and holed up in a castle, but our hero soon faces attacks from a massively larger French army. Not only does this book feature Obodiah Hakeswill, the titular enemy, it also marks the first appearance of the comically inept rocket troop.

04
of 14

Sharpe's Company

1812. Having helped storm Cuidad Rodrigo, Sharpe loses his temporary post as captain and resolves to regain it by whatever feat of suicidal bravery is necessary during the siege of Badajoz, a brutal carnage that begins with the French defending the citadel and ends with the English ruthlessly plundering it.

05
of 14

Sharpe's Gold

1810. With the English army desperate for funds, Wellington sends Sharpe to retrieve a fortune in gold from a Spanish guerrilla leader. With less emphasis on large battles than some of the other books, this almost special forces-style adventure is a change in pace from the above.

06
of 14

Sharpe's Rifles

1809. Written as a prequel, for many years this was the first book, the story of how a group of riflemen and Spanish guerillas managed to storm a town and start a rebellion.

07
of 14

Sharpe's Regiment

1813. In one of the series' more original plots, Sharpe and Harper return to England in search of reinforcements for their depleted regiment. They discover, by secretly re-enlisting, that someone is selling their soldiers.

08
of 14

Sharpe's Waterloo

1815. Having taken Sharpe across Portugal, Spain, and into France, Bernard Cornwell just had to write his hero into both the Battle of Waterloo and its most iconic moments. Arguably one of the best in the series, this should be the last you ever read, leaving Sharpe after his finest hour.

09
of 14

'The Sharpe Companion' by Mark Adkin

On its date of publication, this was a complete guide to the Sharpe books. The chapters are explained for each plot, the events are shaped into a new pseudo-historical context, the equipment and uniforms were explained, the geography is mapped, and fascinating snippets of real history are included in the sidebars. However, Bernard Cornwell has since written new books. Nevertheless, this is still a great read for fans of the character.

10
of 14

The Complete Sharpe Box Set

In the 1990s, the existing Sharpe books were turned into 90-minute films starring Sean Bean. He didn't fit the books' descriptions, but Sean became a perfect Sharpe, even changing Bernard Cornwell's mental image of his character. I heartily recommend 13 of these 14 films (I still think "Sharpe’s Justice" is poor), but there are plot changes from the books.

11
of 14

'A Shred of Honour' by David Donachie

David Donachie’s "Markham of the Marines" series begins with the French Revolutionary war, which becomes the Napoleonic Wars. These books have a slightly different angle than the Sharpe books, but still have a strong flavor of the era.

12
of 14

'True Soldier Gentlemen' by Adrian Goldsworthy

Yes, this is the same Adrian Goldsworthy as the legend of ancient military history, but he’s chosen to set a series of novels in the Napoleonic wars. They divided opinion, with some seeing them as more socially minded and cerebral than Sharpe, but they’re well worth trying.

13
of 14

Over the Hills and Far Away: The Music of Sharpe

This music is inspired by and from the era of the Sharpe books.

14
of 14

'Waterloo: Four Days that Changed Europe's Destiny' by Tim Clayton

This is a factual book, but if you want to learn the real history of the true climax of the Sharpe series, this is the one to read. It’s like a novel and has great detail but never loses sight of taking you through the events and giving you a sense of what the battle involved.

Sources

Clayton, Tim. "Waterloo: Four Days that Changed Europe's Destiny." Paperback, Abacus, 2001.

Donachie, David. "A Shred of Honour (Markham of the Marines Book 1)." Allison & Busby, January 23, 2014.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. True Soldier Gentlemen (Napoleonic War), Paperback, Phoenix, December 20, 2011.

Muldowney, Dominic. "Over the Hills and Far Away: The Music of Sharpe." Captain R. J. Owen (Conductor), Light Division Band and Bugles (Orchestra), Moscow Symphony Orchestra (Orchestra), John Tams (Performer), Kate Rusby (Performer), Virgin.