Top Best Sharpe Novels

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 favourite Sharpe books, with a couple of related items.

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Sharpe's Eagle

1809. After witnessing the South Essex lose their colours 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 honour by capturing a French Eagle standard.

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Sharpe's Sword

1812. Not only is Captain Sharpe leading his light company in numerous assaults, he's also pursing 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.

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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.

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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 in the siege of Badajoz, a brutal carnage that begins with the French defending the citadel and ends with the English ruthlessly plundering it.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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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.

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The Sharpe Companion by Mark Adkin

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

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The Complete Sharpe Boxset

In the 1990's the existing Sharpe books were turned into ninety-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 thirteen of these fourteen films (I still think Sharpe’s Justice is poor), but there are plot changes.

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A Shred of Honour by David Donachie

And now I’m going totally off piste by mentioning other writers you might like if you’ve liked what I’ve recommended above. David Donachie’s Markham of the Marines series begins with the French Revolutionary war, which becomes the Napoleonic Wars, and I enjoyed them greatly: a slightly different angle but a strong flavour of the era. I didn’t read them in order and had no issues.

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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 with second hand prices so low they’re well worth trying. This is book one in the series and follows the British.

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Over the Hills and Far Away: The Music of Sharpe

Although this list is billed as my recommendations I’ve included this because of the sheer number of people I know who went to it after seeing the TV series and loved it, music inspired by and from the era. It didn’t resonate fully with me, but it was well over a decade ago and I should probably revisit.

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

A factual book, but if you want to learn the real history of the true climax of the Sharpe series than 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.