“Sharpe’s Triumph,” by Bernard Cornwell

10 Sep

“Sharpe’s Triumph,” by Bernard Cornwell (384p)
Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye, September 1803

Following on from Sharpe’s Tiger is the second prequel in Bernard Cornwell’s long-running Sharpe series, Sharpe’s Triumph. Written in 1998, the story of the young Richard Sharpe from his years in India continues with a tale about Sharpe sent on a mission to arrest a renegade East India Company officer, and the historically important Battle of Assaye in 1803.

Sharpe is now a sergeant after the events of Sharpe’s Tiger. Early in the piece he witnesses the betrayal of Britain by Maj William Dodd in the city of Ahmednuggur (modern Ahmednagar), who massacres the British garrison in charge. Sharpe is then hired by Col. Hector McCandless, a friend from the previous novel, to bring Dodd to arrest. While all of this is going on, in the background Sgt. Obadiah Hakeswill returns with a plot to bring down Sharpe on trumped up charges of striking an officer.

From there, Sharpe witnesses the Siege of Ahmednuggur with McCandless. This is superbly written as Sharpe is merely a spectator, but Cornwell still details the work of the Highlanders who manage to scale the walls of Ahmednuggur under heavy fire. The chase for Dodd takes Sharpe and McCandless across India and eventually to the Battle of Assaye, a battle that Wellington later described as his finest hour – not bad for a man who won at Talavera, Salamanca, Vitoria and Waterloo.

At Assaye we get to see arguably the most important action in the entire Sharpe series, something readers of the first-era only read in dialogue and brief mentions in the narrative – Sharpe saving the life of the unhorsed Wellesley. While Cornwell has taken a liberty by replacing another man with Sharpe, the events of that are written faithfully to the history as described, as Wellesley really was unhorsed at Assaye and his life placed in serious jeopardy by Indian lancers. As a reward for his heroic act Wellesley gives Sharpe his officer’s battlefield commission, promoting him from sergeant to ensign.

Sharpe’s Triumph is much like Sharpe’s Tiger. Sharpe is still young (he’s only 25 in 1803) and he laments his lack of experience. He makes mistakes. He’s rougher. He is by no means the finished product as a character and that is what’s enjoyable about these Indian prequels. As a reader, you get to see what I think is one of fictions best characters becoming the hero he would in future books.

For fans of Sharpe and people who enjoyed the first one keep reading. It’s all the hallmarks of a Bernard Cornwell novel, and I really did enjoy it. It was fast paced, the story again is strong but what is truly excellent were the two battles, described so intensely that you really do feel you are watching the Siege of Ahmednuggur with Richard Sharpe.

8/10.

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