© 1997 Bernard Cornwell
Until the birth of modern India in 1947, there existed for many centuries upon the southern tip of the Indian peninsula a kingdom known as Mysore. In the year 1799, the British Empire — whose commercial interests made it increasingly interested in the affairs of the peninsula — opted to remove Mysore’s king, the Tippo (or Tipu) Sultan, from the throne, for he was far too fond of the French, and the French far too interested in India, for the situation to be tolerated. And so Private Richard Sharpe, redcoat soldier in the 33rd Foot under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, advanced upon the Sultan’s capital.
Sharpe’s general attitude being what it is, in no time at all he’s broken the nose of a sergeant who is out to kill him, and is rescued from death-by-flogging only when a lieutenant given an important mission requests Sharpe’s assistance. The two men are to infiltrate the Sultan’s army, then find and rescue a captured British colonel who has information vital to the campaign. Time is of the essence, for the clever sultan has arranged a bloody trap for the army advancing upon his city.
Sharpe’s Tiger must be one of this series’ more significant books, for Sharpe — most famous for his skills as a riflemen — picks up a rifle for the first time here, and begins a career as an 19th century action hero. It establishes his early history and reason for joining the army, and as the tension builds Sharpe grows from a rogue on the point of deserting into a genuine soldier. The future Duke of Wellington is also here — young, and with a legacy to begin building. The Tippoo sultan ranks among Sharpe’s more memorable enemies: he is a man obsessed by tigers, to the point of having his soldiers wear tiger-striped uniforms, employ tiger-shaped cannons, and fire muskets decorated by tigers. Though a enemy of England and in Sharpe’s eyes a ‘bastard’, the man’s bravery, wiliness, and leadership skills earn him the grudging praise of the book’s various British officers, including Sharpe. I especially appreciated Cornwell’s pacing here: the whole of the book ramps the tension as the British move toward attack. There are also some unique characters who I hope to see again, like Lieutenant Lawford.
Excellent as always.
- Sharpe’s Challenge appears to have been baldly borrowed from Sharpe’s Tiger.