Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book Review: Sharpe's Tiger by Bernard Cornwell

As the British army fights its way through India toward a diabolical trap, young private Richard Sharpe must battle both man and beast behind enemy lines. 

It's 1799, and Richard Sharpe is just an illiterate young private in His Majesty's service, part of an expedition sent to push the ruthless Tippoo of Mysore from his throne and drive his French allies out of India.

Posing as a deserter, Sharpe must penetrate into the Tippoo's city and make contact with a Scottish spy being held prisoner there. Success will mean winning his sergeant stripes; failure, being turned over to the Tippoo's brutal executioners -- or his man-eating tigers. Picking his way through an exotic and alien world, one slip will mean disaster as Sharpe learns that he must fight his old comrades in order to save his own neck. Along the way, he keeps an eye out for Mysore's beautiful prositutes, any stray loot he can get his hands on and the chance to learn his ABC's. But when the furious British assault on the city begins, Sharpe must fight with the fierceness and agility of a tiger himself to foil the Tippoo's well-set trap -- and to keep from being killed by his own side.

Synopsis courtesy of

My Review

4 Stars

Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Tiger introduces the reader to literary hero Richard Sharpe, a young British solider whose many adventures are chronicled in Cornwell's popular Sharpe series.  While not published first, Sharpe's Tiger is, chronologically, the first novel in the series.   As such, the novel introduces Sharpe, tells of his early years in the British Army and lays the groundwork for some of the key events and relationships featured throughout the series.  

The novel is set at the turn of the 19th century in Mysore (India) during the British siege of Seringapatam.   The setting alternates between a British Army camp and Seringapatam.   Cornwell's descriptive prose transports the reader right into the heart of the British camp during the oppressive heat of an Indian summer, and one can practically feel the discomfort of the British soldiers in their heavy wool uniforms.   Despite being under siege, an air of optimism remains in Seringapatam, where the Tippoo is creating a weapon that will ensure his victory against any British assault. 

While the history presented in the book is quite interesting, Sharpe's Tiger is very much a character driven novel.  Indeed, it is the characters that make this book come alive for the reader.  While not without flaws, Richard Sharpe is a character readers can't help but be drawn to and cheer for.   The villain of the novel, British Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill, is a cruel and conniving man who will stop at nothing to bring Richard Sharpe down.   Key historical figures featured in the novel include the cold, but brilliant Colonel Arthur Wellesley, who will later earn lasting renown on the battlefields of Europe as the Duke of Wellington, and British General David Baird, who is portrayed as an affable man who respects those under his command.   While ruthless, the Tippoo of Mysore is characterized as a brave man who will do whatever it takes to save his city and territory from the British. 

Sharpe's Tiger is the first novel in the series I've had the pleasure to read and it won't be the last.  I'm very much looking forward to the next installment to find out what adventures Richard Sharpe will experience next. 

Note: This novel comes from my own personal collection.