“Sharpe’s Tiger,” by Bernard Cornwell

10 Sep

“Sharpe’s Tiger,” by Bernard Cornwell (384p)
Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Seringapatam, 1799

Sharpe’s Tiger is chronologically the first in Bernard Cornwell’s widely successful Richard Sharpe series. Written in 1997, it is hardly Bernard Cornwell’s first novel – by the time of writing he had written nearly thirty novels. Cornwell concluded the first-era Sharpe novels with Sharpe’s Devil in 1992 and in between wrote his Arthur series as well as the incomplete Starbuck Chronicles. Following the success of the Sharpe television series Cornwell began writing prequels to his original series, starting with this one.

Set in India in 1799, Richard Sharpe is just 22-years-old, still a private, inexperienced, and thinking of deserting the British Army. His sergeant, Obadiah Hakeswill, is making his life a misery with the humdrum day-to-day boredom of the army. Hakeswill is a brilliant villain and we get to see what a vile person he is when he conspires to get Sharpe flogged.

After suffering that torture, described in gruesome detail, Sharpe is assigned to a special task by Col. Arthur Wellesley with Lt. William Lawford, which takes the story on a thrilling adventure right to the heart of the Tippoo Sultan’s kingdom, Seringapatan (modern Srirangapattana). There, the usual escapes and fights occur as Sharpe battles to fulfil his assignment and the reward that goes with it. Not to mention the romantic interest, which I dubbed Sharpegirl, is there in the form of Mary Bickerstaff, a widowed young army wife attached to Sharpe. Cornwell describes the difficulty in Sharpe’s task without glossing over anything – the way he describes the heat of India, the dangers of Sharpe’s predicament and down to things such as the way a soldier goes about his business is done superbly in its gore and closeness to detail.

For many older Sharpe fans that read the original first-era series these ones are seen as inferior. Well, I never read those ones. This was the first Sharpe novel I read after reading Cornwell’s Arthur series and I loved it. I loved the action sequences, I loved the characterisations of Sharpe as a young man and Hakeswill, and the story was gripping and had enough to it to keep my hooked to the end. Not to mention the history is strong too – Cornwell does admit to taking some liberties for the sake of the flow of the story, but it is nothing too noticeable to distract the reader.

If you haven’t read Cornwell or Sharpe before than this is a good place to start. It’s easy to read and gives you a very good idea of what Cornwell’s style is like. It’s fast-paced, the characters are very strong and they read like stories in that era, not just a story about the India of the early British Raj years. However, if you are someone that finds the bloodiness of battle described as to what it must have really been like a little too much then I would read with caution as at times it can be quite graphic.



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