Title: Sharpe’s Triumph
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication date: 26th February 1998
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Private Collection
India, 1803. Sergeant Richard Sharpe witnesses a murderous act of treachery by an English officer who has defected from the East India Company to join the mercenary army of the Mahratta Confederation. In the hunt for the renegade Englishman, penetrates deep into the enemy’s territory where he faces temptations more subtle than he has ever dreamed of. And behind him, relentlessly stalking him, comes his worst enemy, the baleful, twitching Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill who is determined to break Sharpe once and for all. The paths of treachery all lead to the small village of Assaye where Sir Arthur Wellesley, with a tiny British army, faces the Mahratta horde. Outnumbered and outgunned, Wellesley decides to fight, and Sharpe is plunged into the white heat of a battle that will make Wellesley’s reputation. It will make Sharpe’s name to, but only if he can survive the carnage and killing frenzy, for it is at Assaye that he at last realizes his ambition and has a chance to seize it. This major new novel will follow the adventures of Richard Sharpe in India, begun so excitingly in Sharpe’s Tiger and culminating in the Battle of Assaye, which Wellington considered his greatest victory.
Considering my unexpected appreciation for Sharpe’s Tiger, I picked up the second book in the series pretty quickly. Looks like I’ll be reading and reviewing the whole series!
Sharpe’s Triumph is a direct continuation from Sharpe’s Tiger and much like the first novel is set in India, it’s the second in chronological order of the series, but published some years after the first. It helps to serve as a ‘prequel’ for the main bulk of the series, but considering my late arrival to the series it has made sense to read it chronologically.
Sharpe is now a Sergeant serving in an East India Company and sent off on an errand to buy stolen ammunition. However, his mission turns sour and he becomes the sole survivor of a treacherous massacre and key witness of the event. Sharpes services are employed by Colonel McCandles – who was introduced to us in the previous book – to track down the killer in order to bring him to justice. Along the way the battle of Assaye just happens to take place! The Battle of Assaye being one in which British Forces are severely outnumbered by Mercenary fighters. To make matters worse, the insufferable Sergeant Hakeswill returns with another attempt to ruin Sharpes day!
As with the previous book, I entered with a sense of trepidation. What is Sharpe’s Tiger was a one off in the Historical Fiction department for me? On top of that there was the concern that a larger battle would confuse me too much and become unenjoyable. These were groundless foundations as Bernard Cornwell has ‘done it again,’ with highly skilled but easy approachable language, sublime characterisations and a keen eye for details.
Sharpe is as likeable as ever and continues to grow on me. There is something very real about him, he’s a man that is tempted by ‘better offers,’ which are thrown at him through Anthony Pohlmann, a defected sergeant turned Colonel that promises Sharpe a officers commission in return for his services. It’s his dilemmas over the offer that make him an enjoyable character to read about. He isn’t perfect and his reasons for wanting a commission in the first place are as flawed as his thoughts on the offer he’s given.
Other characters are just as well written in their own ways as Sergeant Sharpe; already mentioned is Sergeant Hakeswill who is just as devious and nasty in Sharpe’s Triumph as he was in Sharpe’s Tiger – if not more so. I still have a distinct dislike for the character and that can only mean that he is as well crafted in this second offering as he is the first.
We are treated to more page time from other key characters, Arthur Wellesley is given a significant jump as his role as the Armies General is much more pivotal to the overall plot of Sharpe’s Triumph. The Battle of Assaye is credited as Wellesleys greatest triumph in battle and it’s all in here in rich, cinematic detail. The battle is as alive as the characters that are fighting it; at one point Sharpe is surrounded by enemies and fighting tooth and nail for his life (and that is his superior officer.) The scene was so intense I discovered I was curling the pages of my book in defence of the characters. Never before have I felt such an enthralling interaction from a novel.
The Battle of Assaye section of Sharpe’s Triumph takes up the last third of the book. It passes in the blink of an eyes. It’s so in depth, the details so rich, but not a moment lags. Once the battle commences, it’s a break-neck pace to the conclusion of the book; I don’t want to post any spoilers, but Sharpes personal triumph at the end is sublime and, after a whole book of being dogged by his rival Sergeant Hakeswill, fitting – a part of me hopes that this isn’t the last we will see of the dire Sergeant as a ‘good’ bad guy is often hard to come across. And no bad guy has come as close to being as perfect as Sergeant Hakeswill!
The over-arching plot of Sharpe’s Triumph follows Colonel McCandles and Sharpe in their goal of catching Major William Dodd, another despicable character, but one that doesn’t hold a candle to Hakeswill. The two threads, tracking Major Dodd and The Battle of Assaye, come together nicely. While in other novels, the placement of characters to their situations could come across as contrived, everything that happens in Sharpe’s Triumph is seamless. Yes, it’s Sharpe that is the sole survivor of the East India Company fort massacre, yes it’s Sharpe that Colonel McCandles seeks to join him in the hunt for Dodd and yes, it’s Sharpe that replaces General Wellesleys aide in the final battle. However, none of this feels like a piece of ‘plot-armour’ the events are all brought together in well-considered manner.
Another fantastic book in the Sharpe series. With highly-detailed, historically accurate, large-scale battles. Excellent characters that hold a certain charm of their own. Just as enjoyable as the first (chronologically) book. I am eager to start on book three of the series as soon as possible!