Sharpe’s Tiger is set in India in 1799, at the Siege of Seringapatam. Sharpe is a private in the 33rd Foot, and we are quickly introduced to his enemy, Sgt. Obadiah Hakeswill. Hakeswill is a recurring character in the Sharpe novels and it doesn’t take long to dislike him. He provokes Sharpe into hitting him, a court-martial offence that leads to Sharpe being flogged. In the TV adaptations, Hakeswill is played by Pete Postlethwaite, which was marvellous casting.
In Sharpe’s Tiger, a British colonel with crucial information about Seringapatam is captured by Tippoo Sultan. Sharpe and an officer, Lt. William Lawford, pretend to be deserters so that they can gain access to Tippoo’s palace and try to free him. Before they are accepted, Sharpe is ordered to execute the colonel, who manages to give Sharpe information about the fortress. Sharpe and Lawford are betrayed and have to free themselves as well as the colonel from Tippoo’s cells. Then there is the matter of destroying the explosives set up to destroy the British Army.
Cornwell gives a lot of attention to the details of military matters. In the first chapter he describes the manoeuvres required to get an 18th century regiment into position for battle. He also describes the procedure for loading a musket so well that I felt I could have done it myself. I doubt I could ever do the ‘three rounds a minute’ that Sharpe reckoned was the mark of a good soldier, but then, I’d never need to. Characters are well described, minor characters as well as major characters. The story moves along at a good pace and I never lost interest in what was going on. The battles are described in detail, sometimes very graphic detail. Not for the squeamish!
Sharpe’s Tiger is the first of the novels about the adventures of Richard Sharpe, taking them in chronological order. Published in 1997, It was not the first Sharpe novel Bernard Cornwell wrote. That was Sharpe’s Gold, which was published in 1981. As with the other Sharpe novels set in India, this was not adapted as a television episode. Elements of it were worked into a TV film, Sharpe’s Challenge.