Title: Sharpe's Tiger
Subtitle: Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Seringapatam, 1799
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 0-00-649035-2
Price: £6.99 How come books are so expensive nowadays?
Classification: Historical Fiction/Military Fiction

Sharpe's Tiger is the chronologically first book in the Sharpe series written by Bernard Cornwall. It is set in India in the year of our lord seventeen hundred and ninety nine with the march of the British army led by General Harris to Seringapatam. This fortress town was the capital of the Tippoo Sultan's* Mysore empire and was blocking the advance of the British into southern India. From this fortress the Tippoo was interfering with the East India Corporation by being troublesome and fighting them. The British Government, not liking this one bit, sends off an army to crush the Tippoo and bring India under total British control.

The story starts with Private Richard Sharpe contemplating running from the army. Disillusioned by the lack of excitement and the hatred he feels towards Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill (who will be his nemesis for a good while) he starts to plan an escape. However before he can he is tricked by Hakeswill into striking him which leads to Sharpe being flogged. Saved in the nick of time by Colonel Arthur Wellesley (rather ironic since Wellesley was much in favour of capital/corporal punishment and used it relatively liberally) after receiving 202 lashes he is sent off on a secret mission. This eventually leads him into the dungeons of the Tippoo and later into the midsts of the fighting surrounding the fall of the city.

I love the Sharpe books and Cornwall does not disappoint with this one. It is an achievement that he has managed to keep all the various story lines that occured in later novels (which he wrote before this one) accurate in this novel. Many of the characters and sub plots in the Sharpe series starts around about this time. The infamous flogging that is mentioned numerous times throughout the series happens in this book. We also get introduced to Hakeswill and other characters which play important parts in other books.

This is also the first time that Sharpe fires a rifle. Though he is reknowned for being an excellent shot, at this stage he has only ever used a smooth bore musket and therefore over compensates for the rifled bore. Therefore he misses his target and looks a bit of a fool. Though its quite an obvious bit in the book it seems slightly random for Sharpe to be introduced to the gun at this stage. He is not in a position of great authority and it serves nothing to the story but to show Sharpe fans that he is using a rifle. That could just be me moaning though.

I think that if you've never read the Sharpe series before then this is as good a place as any to start since it is the chronologically first book. However, I do get the feeling that this book has an air about it that you should of already read some of the other books first. It is difficult to shake the fact that much of Sharpe's character development happens in the later Sharpe's Rifles (SR) and much of the mood of that book is missing in Sharpe's Tiger. In SR one has a much slower but more in depth introduction to Sharpe's character. He starts off as a hard nut and you soften to him through his trial and tribulations. However, I think that Tiger is missing this. For me this wasn't a problem since I've been an avid fan for a long while and read most of his books already so I have already been introduced to the Sharpe world already. For the newbie though I'd suggest reading the series from SR onwards first and then come back and read the books preceeding this.

* I'm using the spelling that Bernard Cornwall uses here though I have seen it as Tipu Sultan as well as just Tipu Sahib

Sources: Sharpe's Tiger, Bernard Cornwall Sharpe's Companion, Mark Adkin, ISBN: 0002558173

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