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Day Thirteen: Favourite book series?
When I was young I would read a lot, a common sentiment I would imagine for anyone that has grown up in the digital age and found the availability and scope of media available instantaneously a strong desirable form of entertainment over the relatively small and modest barrier to entry of purchasing a physical book to read. Of course there are other options such as libraries, or quite simply the fact second hand books can be purchased for such a low price there really isn’t a reason beyond the time constraint of modern living being a prohibitive factor. Why did I stop reading to such a degree? I would suggest there was no real series of books I could relate to or enjoy to any great degree, certainly none that have transitioned into adulthood successfully.
I really enjoyed reading the Legend of Drizzt novels by R.A Salvatore, when I first visited my gran living in Williamsburg, Virginia one of the treats as a guest from overseas was to visit the local bookshop at William and Mary college, a colossal assortment of various genres and series in contrast to anything at home at that time. With Amazon still a relatively new prospect at the turn of the Millenium, for fans of fantasy novels and books you were somewhat limited besides the modest range available at your local store. And then I found shelf upon shelf of the D&D range of books, and my first exposure to the works of R.A Salvatore with his compendium release of the Dark Elf Trilogy, a precursor to the Icewind Dale Trilogy released two years previously. It was my first exposure to the Forgotten Realms setting which would shape my gaming habits going forward picking up Baldur’s Gate 2 on the familiarity, due in part, of The Legend of Drizzt.
The only disconnect I ever really felt with this book series came from the illustration of the central character. A common occurrence with book readers, you always picture the protagonist a certain way in your head, a consequence of a richly described world by a skilled author, how Drizzt was depicted on the cover didn’t resonate to the character I had built up in mind. That aside, I did enjoy these novels, in a perfect world I do feel they would make great inspiration for a fantasy based show on the small screen. There is so much source material to refer to given the first release of book one in the Icewind Dale trilogy occurred in 1988. If I had a criticism which isn’t wholly directed towards this specific series alone, it does leave you with the impression of an author pandering to a demand for his novels without the courage to draw a line and conclude the story. I mentally checked out of these books a good few years ago, on somewhat of a cliff hanger as it just felt the narrative wasn’t going anywhere that hadn’t been seen or read before.
I needed a new book series to pass away my time when the situation allowed, and I was inspired from another childhood hero of mine who adventures I had followed from a young age, even if, perhaps his values and morality wasn’t perhaps aimed at my age demographic at the time. That man was of course Richard Sharpe, the hero, scoundrel and soldier of the series of books written by Bernard Cornwell based on an officer, elevated from the ranks during the Napoleonic and Peninsular war before being expanded upon to cover Britain’s presence in India and later on its expansion into the colonies. Whenever I hear criticism of George Martin on his efforts to finish the Game of Thrones series, it does draw a small smile from me as the Sharpe novels faced a similar predicament on their initial release with the author, having release a number of original novels in the series already, going back and completing additional books to bring the books in sync with the television drama. As a fan of the series, it’s certainly strange to read somewhat faithful adaptations of a screenplay as a prose novel before moving on to a more detailed and wildly different book which influenced an episode to some extent but had a lot of differences. The best way to describe it’s style, a cross between the original Bond novels of Fleming and Game of Thrones, in some ways faithful, in others entirely different.
Inconsistency, at least in the beginning is ever present and it can be both confusing and off putting to some degree. As said, the chronology of release and events in the novels were structured around the television series, as such certain featured characters in the pilot episode and adaptation, Sharpe’s Rifles disappear entirely until they are introduced into the formal novels written after the series launched. The two prequel novels, written long after the book series had launched were subsequently adapted, and set after the events of the books and series and merged into one novel. The Sharpe series is centred around the titular character and his chosen men as they undertake missions away from the main conflicts of the wars they find themselves in, a rifle company of a dozen or so chosen men on special assignment for the most part. That said they witness and take part in many historical events and battles, each novel prefixed with an opening note by the author on how real battles influenced the particular story and narrative.
In contrast, the television series for budgetary reasons often resisted using large scale battles and focused solely on the rifle company losing some of the mystic and prestige of the novels. As I said, inconsistency is a key consideration to take into account. If you can overlook that, as a whole they are still a great series of books and really add depth to the television series. I was a big fan of the drama, having read the books it gives additional motivation and meaning behind certain decisions and actions, they weren’t bad adaptations, more constrained by budget and time. A part of me would love to see a more faithful and equally, more funded production based on the Sharpe series but the original novels are so intrinsically centred around the original series you can’t help but see anyone else but Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe. As such, one of my favourite series of books, objectively, definite room for improvement but nonetheless, a terrific read.
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