Having fallen victim to the Sean Bean portrayal of rough diamond, raised from the ranks soldier Richard Sharpe, and having started the TV series from its start (thanks to Phil’s self sacrifice in buying me the DVD box set for Christmas) I’d begun to appreciate more fully the comments on Amazon about Bernard Cornwell’s “set earlier, written later” Sharpe novels – ie that Cornwell had been persuaded to divulge the detail on the early years of Sharpe’s career – the time he spent in India, his sea voyage home (handily coinciding with Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar) and his foray into Denmark – all of which take place prior to the 95th Rifles’ arrival on the Iberian peninsula, and feature his initial encounters with Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) and the evil Obidiah Hakeswill.
Ideally I would have started with Sharpe’s Tiger and Sharpe’s Triumph, but the Barbican Library’s largesse was limited to making the next three novels available in one fell swoop. So, not that bad really!
Sharpe’s Fortress is “subtitled” Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Gawilghur, December 1803 which sums up the setting rather neatly. We join Ensign Richard Sharpe and his pre-Rifles regiment, unhappily so, as the British Army’s campaign against the rebellious Mahratta princes continues, laying siege to the impregnable cliff top fortress of Gawilghur. Sharpe shines when he find himself in his element – thinking on his feet, playing dirty where necessary, repaying loyalty with loyalty and respect – but only once he manages to break free from the politics of the “born to it” officer class.
I was worried that I’d not enjoy the novels as much as the TV series – not just the absence of Sean Bean, but also the need to read about the battles rather than simply watching them play out on screen. My fears proved unfounded – yes, there are pages of battle, but they’re written from the soldier’s perspective rather than the tacticians. Plenty of real time blood, guts and glory, hardly any “British regiment moved to position X; Indian forces countered by moving to position Y”.
Amazon.co.uk: Sharpe’s Fortress – Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe Novels: an Amazon Listmania list, giving the Sharpe series in order of event rather than publication.