Sharpe’s Tiger (book)
Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Seringapatam, 1799
Sharpe’s Tiger is the first book, chronologically, in the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. It reveals a lot of Sharpe’s backstory that is referenced in the other Sharpe’s books, including his promotion story. It takes place in Mysore, India in 1799. Richard Sharpe is beginning his journey as a Private in the 33rd Regiment of Foot in the British Army. The Army is invading Mysore and is advancing to the Tippoo Sultan’s capital city, Seringapatam.
Before we begin, here is out cast of characters:
Cast of Characters
- Richard Sharpe – the protagonist; Private in the 33rd Regiment of Foot in the British Army serving in India.
- William Lawford – Sharpe’s lieutenant who aids him in freeing Colonel McCandless, Colonel McCandless’ nephew.
- Mary Bickerstaff – a widowed half-Indian army wife, now attached to Sharpe.
- General George Harris
- Major-General David Baird – a former prisoner within Seringapatam now itching for revenge, resents Wellesley.
- Colonel Arthur Wellesley – later 1st Duke of Wellington, Irish-born Colonel trying to make a name for himself in India.
- Colonel Hector McCandless – Scottish intelligence officer for the British East India Company, held captive by the Tippoo Sultan in the dungeons of Seringapatam.
- Tippoo Sultan – Indian King, ruler of Seringapatem, commander of their army, killed by Sharpe. His giant red ruby and the rest of his jewels are stolen by Sharpe.
- Colonel Jean Gudin – a French adviser to the Tippoo Sultan.
- Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill – Sharpe’s Sergeant and enemy, has him flogged (2,000 lashes), and tries to murder him every chance he gets.
- Brevet Lieutenant Fitzgerald – Newly promoted Ensign, nice guy, very young, murdered by Hakeswill during a battle outside Seringapatam.
- Ensign Hicks – the junior officer serving with the Light Company
- Captain Morris – the commanding officer of 33rd Light Company, Hakeswill’s co-conspirator in trying to murder Sharpe.
- Major Shee – the commanding officer of the 33rd Regiment, hopeless drunk.
- Colonel Gent – the officer in charge of engineering the breach.
- General Appah Rao – General of the Tippoo Sultan’s army, friend of Colonel McCandless, working with McCandless to put the real Sultan in power.
When we open the book, Sharpe is contemplating desertion, so he can be with, and save, his lover Mary Bockerstaff. He asked for permission to marry her, but was turned down by his commanding officers, Sergeant Hakeswill and Captain Morris. Morris and Hakeswill want to sell Mary into prostitution, but need to get Sharpe out of the way first. Hakeswill sets up Sharpe and provokes Sharpe into hitting him, resulting in Sharpe getting court-martialed and being sentenced to a 2,000 lashes, a virtual death sentence. Sharpe is saved, with only 200 lashes, when Colonel Arthur Wellesley stops the flogging and orders Sharpe to the General’s tent.
Leutenant William Lawford has requested Sharpe accompany him on a dangerous mission to rescue his uncle, and Chief of the East India Company’s inttelgience service, Colonel Hector McCandless. Lawford and Sharpe are to pose as deserters, join the Tippoo Sultan’s army, and rescue McCandless. Sharpe, having been flogged to the bone (literally), provided a nice cover story for them both and quickly dominates the mission. Lawford was in command, but had very little experience. Sharpe also brings Mary along to keep her safe from the clutches of Hakeswill and Morris.
With their cover stories in place (Sharpe is deserting cause he was flogged bringing his wife with him, and Lawford is a clerk who was caught thieving and decided to desert rather than get flogged), they head out into the wild and are quickly found by the Tippoo Sultan’s men. They are taken to the palace and meet Colonel Gudin, a French officer who is aiding the Tippoo and showing his men how to fight the British (if the Sultan listens). During their interrogation, Sharpe and Lawford are ordered to load muskets and kill a British prisoner to show their loyalty to the Sultan. The prisoner that is brought out is none other than McCandless. Sharpe notices the powder is too light (it won’t fire the bullet) and “shoots” McCandless, earning the Tippoo’s trust. When the musket “misfires” Sharpe punches McCandless and is able to steal a moment to tell him he is working for Wellesley and is there to save him. McCandless is able to relay a short message telling him of a trap the Tippoo has set up on the western weaker walls meant to destroy the British army.
Sharpe and Lawford are assigned to Gudin’s troops and Mary is sent to work as a servant in General Apprah Rao’s house. Sharpe an Lawford’s loyalty is tested yet again when they are told to fire at the British army. Sharpe wings his target, but it is Lawford’s kill that solidifies trust for the Tippoo. Sharpe is assigned to help defend a Mysore encampment and meets Hakeswill in the confusion of the battle. He gives his warning message about not attacking the west wall, but Hakeswill ignores him and they fight. Sharpe tries to kill him, but is stopped by Gudin who wants prisoners. Hakeswill is taken back to Seringapatam and sees Lawford amongst the Tippoo’s men. Sharpe is given a medal for his good work and is allowed to see Mary.
Mary has fallen in love with one of the General’s men, Kunwar Singh, and informs Sharpe of her choice when they meet. Sharpe is wounded, but understands. He takes the news like a gentleman and wishes her well. He leaves her with a request she try and deliver the message about the trap to Wellesley. Meanwhile, the Tippoo is having his fearsome Jettis execute prisoners. Hakeswill is spared when he tells the Tippoo Lawford’s actual rank and that Sharpe and Lawford are spies. When Sharpe returns he and Lawford are arrested. Sharpe is tortured until Lawford reveals their mission. They are told their contact, who was suppose to help them find McCandless, was discovered as a spy and fed to the Tippoo’s tigers. They are sent to live in the dungeons with Hakeswill and McCandless.
While in the dungeon, Lawford reveals he has a page of the bible and teaches Sharpe to read. Sharpe managed to smuggle a set of lock picks up his butt. They can’t use them just yet to escape, because the Sultan has a tiger as Warden of the dungeons and they don’t have any weapons to fight him off. Meanwhile, the British have begun their bombardment of the city. After a few days the British are making headway and an attack is imminent. General Appah Rao orders Kunwar Singh to take some loyal men and release McCandless from the dungeons. He hopes McCandless’ presence will prevent the army from looting his home and raping his daughters. As Kunwar is making his way to the dungeons, the Tippoo orders Sharpe, Lawford, and McCandless to be executed by his Jettis as a sacrifice for their victory in battle. Mary followed Kunwar Singh and was able to throw a pistol to Sharpe in the dungeons, which he uses to bravely kill the Warden Tiger. Sharpe breaks everyone free and they make a run for it, killing the Sultan’s Jettis in the process. Sharpe leaves Hakeswill in the cells to die.
Now free, Sharpe and Lawford make their way to the Sultan’s trap and set it off prematurely, capturing Gudin in the process. As the mine blows, Appah Rao decides to drop the other foot and abandons the Tippoo Sultan. The loss of General Rao’s men causes the battle to swing in the British’s favor. Sharpe leaves Lawford to guard the captured Gudin and returns to Hakeswill. Sharpe drags Hakeswill from the dungeons and leaves him to be eaten by the Tippoo Sultan’s tigers. Sharpe then turns his attention to the Tippoo Sultain and his jewels. Sharpe kills the Tippoo Sultan who fights like a proper soldier and loots his very wealthy corpse as the British take control of the city.
The British give power to the boy who was meant to be Sultan, a new British puppet, and Sharpe gets promoted to Sergeant after a mission well done. Hakeswill escapes the tigers since they were fed before the battle and refused to eat him. Sharpe denied ever having killed the Tippoo Sultan (for fear he would be killed a robbed for the massive amount of jewels he stole), though McCandless suspects it was him. As McCandless and Sharpe watched the Tippoo Sultan’s funeral, McCandless offers to work with Sharpe again in the future, their time in the Tippoo’s dungeons having formed a bond of friendship between them all.
Sharpe’s Tiger is a great start to the Sharpe series, even though it was written well after the first book was published. It was meant as a sort of “flashback” to Sharpe’s life before the Napolean wars in Europe and his time with the Rifles. The battles are incredibly well written. Cornwell makes it easy to follow along with the battle. The images he paints are vivid and clear. You can almost smell the gunpowder and feel the thud of cannon balls as you read each battle. I love it! Sharpe’s Tiger is the first of three books set in India.
You won’t find a movie of this book in the series starring Sean Bean. Though, Sharpe’s Challenge (movie #15) and Sharpe’s Peril (movie #16) take place in India and take pieces of the India books as plot. Only Sharpe is older and is accompanied by Patrick Harper instead of Lawford. The other movies still reference his time in India, including Lawford teaching him to read and write and Sharpe killing the Tippoo Sultan.
Check back here for my review of the next book in the series, chronologically, Sharpe’s Triumph: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye, September 1803.