It has been an age since I have read the core Sharpe books – the ones that focus on the Peninsular Campaign rather than the Indian adventures of Sharpe or the filler books that put him in strange situations such as the Battle of Copenhagen etc. Therefore, as part of my research for Duty & Honour v2.0 I have undertaken to have a re-read and to post some commentary on the game-related aspects of the books. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead.
Quartermaster Lt. Richard Sharpe and his rag-tag company of Rifles are separated from the British Army during the retreat from Corunna. Sharpe must win the trust of the men and reach the British forces in the Peninsular, wherever they are! His mission is complicated by the involvement of a Spanish noble, Don Blas Vivar and his quest to unfurl the banner of St James, the tenacious Chasseur Colonel De I’Eclin and the audacious Louisa Parker.
What’s in the Game?
Who are the Characters?: A good starting point in any such analysis is working out just who the player characters are within the book. Obviously Sharpe is the central character and the other that undergoes the greatest character development is Patrick Harper. Beyond them, not many of the Chosen Men get a look-in, with only Hagman really being mentioned to any great extent. The other main characters are Don Blas Vivar, the Spanish noble and cavalry Major, and Louisa Parker, the daughter of two annoying Methodists who becomes embedded into the Rifles for the duration of the book.
What are the Missions?: The main Military Mission in this book would appear to be ‘Rejoin the British Army’ and this acts as a backdrop for the more interesting personal missions; Sharpe’s ‘Gain the Respect of the Rifles’, Harper’s ‘Avoid Becoming a Sergeant’, Blas Vivar’s ‘Unfurl the Banner of St James at All Costs’ and Louisa’s ‘Escape the Life of a Methodist Daughter’. There is almost certainly a secondary Military Mission towards the end of the book, of ‘Take and then Defend Santiago de Compostela‘
Lets Look at Louisa?: The character of Louisa Parker appears at first glance to be that most typical of Sharpe characters – a woman who Sharpe falls for, beds and is then cast aside. However, Louisa has a lot more agency than that and it is a shame that her adventures tend to be glossed over in the story. She constantly gets into the midst of the battle, carries out a daring spy mission into the French occupation of Santiago de Compostela and even stands in the midst of the Rifle’s last stand and refuses to stand down and run. She has a complex, rebellious personality and her demand that she not become the next Mrs Bullford, but would rather convert to Catholicism to join Don Blas on his adventures is a wonderful moment in the book. The shame for this character is that it does not give us a model for a recurring female character – but it does show how a female PC could easily become highly involved without having to be a soldier.
Iconic Items of Interest: For those that know what is to come, this book naturally has a plethora of details when it comes to establishing the Richard Sharpe character. Did you know he is the son of a whore from the London Rookeries? Its only mentioned once or twice per chapter! Moreover the quintessential Sharpe ‘items of interest’ are introduced here; the heavy straight ‘butchering’ sword that he uses is given to him by the dying Captain Murray, his French officer’s boots are stripped from the corpse of De I’Eclin and of course, we see the first mention of the telescope given to him by Sir Arthur Wellesley. Having these signature items makes the character unique and gaining them in the actual books adds weight to their presence later in the series.
The Three Rules: In the creation of your company/regiment in Duty & Honour you are invited to create some traditions and history that give some common ownership of the entity within the group. For the Rifles, these are obvious in their different uniform and alternative weaponry – rifle and sword bayonet. However, for Sharpe’s Rifles, his insistence on his three rules of soldiering – fight like bastards, steal only when starving and get drunk only with his permission – are an excellent example of devolving this down to a company level.
Religion and Spirituality: If there is one aspect of the story that I would possibly shy away from in-game it is the complex nature of Blas Vivar’s belief system. There is a mixture here of Catholicism and almost animism at points. On the one hand you have his belief that the unfurling of the banner of St. James will act as a rallying cry for the Spanish people (akin to the legends of King Arthur and Charlemagne) and the execution of traitors using a garrote under the watchful eye of a priest chanting in Latin. On the other hand, he is constantly concerned about the nature of water spirits and such in the local area and blames a number of happenings on their anger. This is one of those areas where I, personally, simply know too little about the subject matter to make a judgement on the validity of the content and in these cases, I tend to choose to avoid until I can read further.