In the scorching heat of India, Private Richard Sharpe is on the point of deserting from the British army because of the evil machinations of his sergeant, Obadiah Hakeswill, who is intent on making Sharpe’s life miserable.
Sharpe manages to thwart most of Hakeswill’s attempts to get him into trouble but the sergeant goads Sharpe into a fight, and Sharpe finds himself sentenced to two thousand lashings for striking an officer. Fortunately for Sharpe the flogging is interrupted when he is selected to accompany Lieutenant William Lawford on a mission to save his uncle, Colonel Hector McCandless, an intelligence officer who has been captured by the Tippoo Sultan.
Posing as deserters, Sharpe and Lawford ‘escape’ from the British camp and are eventually recruited into the Tippoo Sultan’s army where they learn a nasty trap has been set up for the British who are advancing on Seringapatam. Desperate to warn the British, Sharpe tries to send them a message, however Hakeswill is captured during a skirmish and saves his own neck by betraying Sharpe and Lawford. As Sharpe and Lawford languish in jail, the British army prepare to attack the walls of Seringapatam, unaware they are heading into a deadly trap.
Although Sharpe’s Tiger is the first book in the Sharpe series from a chronological point of view, it was actually written after Cornwell had concluded the books set in the Peninsular War so if you are a Sharpe aficionado, you are in the curious situation where you know exactly who the villains are and which of the plot elements all contribute to the Sharpe legend.
While we already know all about the sociopathic antics of Hakeswill from his appearance in the later books, Sharpe’s Tiger explores the origin of their enmity towards each other, however Sharpe’s rank as a private puts him in a far more vulnerable position. Hakeswill is by far the best foe Richard Sharpe is pitted against throughout the entire series, causing all sorts of heartache, so it stands to reason Cornwell would’ve wanted to bring him back in some way. Hakeswill is a strange creature with his constant twitching and his delight in tormenting his men, however he gets away with it because he is so sickeningly obsequious to the officers and he covers his tracks well.
While having all this background information is fun, it also puts you in the weird situation where you feel like you’ve already read this book and it is all so predictable as a result. I read all the Sharpe books while the television series was still being produced, however I chose not to read the India books because I felt Cornwell was just filling in the gaps of Sharpe’s story and it was unnecessary. I’ve decided to read the entire series again so thought I would go back and read them in a chronological order with the bonus being the first few books will be new reads for me.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Sharpe legend and the charms of Sean Bean who absolutely nailed the part on television, Sharpe was a British officer who was raised through the ranks after saving the life of Wellington. After years of service in India, Sharpe had gained the rank of a sergeant and wasn’t expected to climb any higher due to his low class, however once he is promoted by Wellington, he begins a steady climb through the ranks until he makes lieutenant colonel at Waterloo. The addition of the earlier works, coupled with the television series, have led to significant changes in Sharpe’s background which I will discuss when I review the other books.
I feel a bit ambivalent about Sharpe’s Tiger, mainly because Cornwell chose to follow the same template he set out for the entire series, and I feel he missed an opportunity to show Sharpe as being less sure of himself. The heroic Sharpe we all know from the rest of the series is very evident here as Sharpe almost saves the day singlehandedly – something that is practically in Sharpe’s job description in every book. Sharpe also comes into contact with Wellington, still just Arthur Wellesley at this point, who is less than impressed by Sharpe’s attitude but it just feels a bit too forced since we know Wellington will become one of Sharpe’s staunchest supporters later on.
The setting itself is impressive and my heart went out to those poor soldiers wearing uncomfortable uniforms in the Indian heat. It’s very hard to picture Sharpe with his hair powdered and pulled back into a lice-ridden club though. In another fun aside, Sharpe is also introduced to the wonders of the rifle, from a French officer no less. Oh, the irony.