Title: Sharpe’s Tiger
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication date: 2nd June 1997
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Private Collection
When a senior British officer is captured by the Tippoo of Mysore’s forces, Richard Sharpe is offered a chance to attempt a rescue, which in turn offers an escape from the tyrannical Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill.
But in fleeing Hakeswill, Sharpe enters the exotic and dangerous world of the Tippoo. An adventure that will require all of his wits just to stay alive, let alone save the British army from catastrophe…
I picked up this book on a bit of a silly whim. Recently, my sister has been watching the Sharpe TV series and commented on how much the word Bastard is used. I was curious to see if this was something that was taken from the source material or not…
Sharpe’s Tiger is the first book, chronologically, in the long-standing Sharpe series of novels and therefore the first that I have read. Where it sits in the writing order I am not sure, but it seemed like the sensible place to start. Set in 1799, Private Sharpe finds himself on campaign in India with the British Army. The Siege of Seringapatam, a major confrontation in the Mysore War between the British East India Company and the Kingdom of Mysore.
The plot of Sharpe’s Tiger put fictional character Private Richard Sharpe in the Siege of Seringapatam – a non-fictional event. It starts by detailing the trials and tribulations between Private Sharpe and the Sergeants and Officers around him, giving a solid grounding in the character relationships that are to develop throughout the book and, hopefully, the rest of the series of novels.
I think it should go without saying that Sharpe is a fantastic lead character. He is a soldier through and through. He’s a devilish rogue that you instantly sympathise with and connect to. He’s personable in his own, unique way and an absolute pleasure to read about. There is a credibility to him and his situation in Sharpe’s Tiger. He is a charismatic lead with strong positive traits at his heart but isn’t untouchable when it comes to his flaws; he likes killing a bit too much, loots and has a very dubious background.
Around Private Sharpe are other characters that are as superbly written. I’ve not found myself disliking (and fascinated by this notion) a character in a book for a long time, but Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill really brought out my ire! I’ve stated before, to write a likeable good guy is far far easier than it is to write a detestable bad guy. I can only praise Bernard Cornwell for the work that he put into the unhinged Sergeant!
There are a handful of other note-able characters, Tippoo Sahib, the main ‘antagonist’ of the story and those around him are also expertly crafted. It is through him that the story gains part of its title. The descriptions of Seringapatam, where the Tippoo lives, are wonderfully crafted. Involving the indulgences of a very wealthy ruler; tigers, gold, jewels and a model of a tiger tearing apart a Redcoat Soldier. (Now viewable in the V&A) Although he is the ‘enemy’ of the siege and does some despicable things, he is written as a courageous man and worthy of his station.
As is Lt Lawford who accompanies Private Sharpe on his mission throughout the novel. Of course, there is a woman involved, Mary Bickerstaff who has her own, small part to play as a fleeting love-interest. It felt a little as though she was a means to an end, but the reactions to her from those around her were well reasoned and she had her part to play in the grand-scheme of things. The Officers surrounding the army are generally what you’d expect; often snobbish and dismissive of those under them. Which the exception of General David Baird, a hulk of a Scotsman who has his own special part to play in the Siege.
This book is a fast-paced action story with scenes of high-drama, character-driven narrative as well as large battle-scenes, all of which are as enjoyable as one another. At no point did I feel like the book was starting to drag and for me, it was captivating as a stand-out from my usual genres but also for the content it holds. Needless to say I am a convert and will be indulging in more of this series as and when I can!
I will hole-heartedly admit that I cannot comment on any technical accuracy of Sharpe’s Tiger as I am no historian. Usually, historical fiction is a genre I avoid as the technicalities and details of such go over my head and I get bogged-down in a myriad of detail that I just don’t understand. I think this is what made me enjoy and appreciate Bernard Cornwells writing style. He is technical with his descriptions and there is certainly a slight shift in his writing pattern when there is something that needs explaining, however it is done in a way that everyone reading can understand. It helps highlight the details of the much larger battles and adds an easy flow between the technical and the character driven dramas.
What I appreciated with my copy of Sharpe’s Tiger – and I assume it comes with all copies of the book – is that Bernard Cornwell has written an authors comment at the end. Detailing what is different between historical-fact and the fiction that he has written. I was surprised to discover that some of the characters in the book are based on real people; General David Baird, Tippoo Sahib, Arthur Wellesley, for example. I think my lack of historical knowledge enabled me to enjoy Sharpe’s Tiger more as a piece of fiction and I was surprised with how much of the book was based on fact and more-so am I impressed by the level of research undertaken.
I do feel somewhat guilty for having picked up this fantastic book on very silly pretences, but I am thrilled to discover such an highly enjoyable book. I wasn’t disappointed with the mileage that the word Bastard got, either!!
I found Sharpe’s Tiger to be a fantastic dip into the historical-fiction genre. Being based on so much fact, it’s easy to understand and flows seamlessly between technically-accurate detail and character-driven fiction. A flawless introduction to the writing style of Bernard Cornwell. Highly recommended.