“Sharpe’s Fortress,” by Bernard Cornwell

10 Sep

“Sharpe’s Fortress,” by Bernard Cornwell (368p)
Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Gawilghur, December 1803

Chronologically third in the Richard Sharpe Napoleonic War series, Sharpe’s Fortress leaves off where Sharpe’s Triumph ends. This is the third and final novel in the Indian prequel series depicting a young Richard Sharpe before he became the man of the Peninsular War, and tells the story of Siege of Gawilghur in December of 1803.

Much like in Sharpe’s Triumph, this instalment opens with Sharpe coming to terms with his new rank. Now he is an officer in the 74th Highlanders Regiment of Foot, but his background and upbringing make that difficult for him. Men don’t respect him, officers talk down to him, and Sharpe is miserable, so much so that he is sent to the baggage train and becomes quartermaster to the regiment. There, Sharpe encounters corrupt officers selling British Army equipment behind the back of Maj-Gen. Arthur Wellesley. Once again Sgt. Obadiah Hakeswill is back to bring hell to Sharpe with another plot to take him down.

News of William Dodd’s escape from Assaye prompts the British to chase him and his Mahratta allies to the great fortress of Gawilghur that sits high atop the Deccan Plain. Who rules in Gawilghur, it is said, rules India. Soon Sharpe learns of his transfer out of the 74th and to a new regiment, the 95th Rifles. But he is then taken prisoner by Hakeswill and his cronies and must fight for his escape as a few old foes from Sharpe’s Tiger return. After escaping from Hakeswill Sharpe sets off to re-join the army at Gawilghur and leads his old regiment, the 33rd Regiment of Foot (Wellington’s) in their attempt to break through the unbreakable walls of Gawilghur.

The Siege of Gawilghur is described in all the usual thrillingness and bloody action of all Cornwell novels where the difficulty in breaking into the fortress is well described and thoroughly believable – Cornwell does a great job of detailing the schematics of the fortress so readers have a fair idea of what it must have been like. The siege is also where we get to see how Sharpe came to wear his iconic cheek scar of later books. Quite how Sharpe, as the only officer, leads the 33rd and parts of the 74th to break into Gawilghur seem a little improbable and unlikely. But according to the history as written by many Wellington biographers, that is what really happened and it was only a small British force that achieved such a feat.

I enjoyed the action in this novel, but its purpose was to set up Sharpe’s transfer back to Europe to join the 95th Rifles and to explain how Sharpe received his scar. The rest of it is rather unimportant and much of the middle section, like Sharpe’s escape from Hakeswill, was only there for the sake of it being there. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it for what it was but this is a fairly forgettable Sharpe across the series.

7/10.

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