Most critics consider the author, Bernard Cornwell, one of the best living historical novelists. He is both popular and prolific -- I count over fifty titles including over thirty "Sharpe" titles. The fictitious Richard "Dick" Sharpe is to the eighteenth and early nineteenth century British army what Patrick O'Brian's "Lucky" Jack Aubrey character (Master and Commander) is to the British navy. As far as I know, they never met.
Although readers first encountered "ranker" Sharpe in Sharpe's Eagle published in 1987, I selected the later Sharpe's Tiger (1997) because, chronologically, it is the first or historically earliest military chronicle in the character's military career. Of course, each of the "Sharpe" novels are stand-alone works and thus can be read separately.
Sharpe's Tiger takes place in exotic, 1799 British India around the actual siege and fall of Seringapatam (now Sriringapatna). Private Sharpe, age twenty-two, is in the 33rd West Yorkshire and Riding Regiment of Foot. Unfortunately, he is under the sadistic and corrupt thumb of a Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill who is in cahoots with the corrupt Captain Morris. This was a time when officer commissions and promotions could be bought by the well connected, which also includes a young, competent Colonel Arthur Wellesley--sixteen years later the victor at Waterloo as the Duke of Wellington. Things are made worse for "Sharpie" because he has found romance with a young, desirable widow. Yes, as today, every army has its camp followers.
Meanwhile, the Indian enemy, Tippoo Sultan of Mysore, has captured an important British Colonel who has acquired vital and desperately needed intelligence. Sharpe, an upper class Lieutenant, and his Mary go undercover as deserters, infiltrate the Indian ranks, and rescue the colonel. Cornwell's particular merits as an author pertain to his creation of diverse, well rounded characters regardless of being good or bad. The author is also at his narrative and descriptive best with action and battlefield scenes. Whether large battles or small engagements of hand-to-hand, the reader hears the din, smells the gunpowder and fear, and vicariously participates in the fight.
After thinking quickly on his feet, surviving life threatening clashes with the enemy, including an eight foot Bengal tiger, and foiling the Tippoo's surprise defenses of the city, Richard Sharpe realizes he relishes the excitement and is actually quite good at being a soldier and "proper redcoat" in her majesty's service!
For those readers not yet sated after experiencing Dick Sharpe twenty plus years of a derring-do career or, perhaps, prefer a different historical time and place, there is always his four book " Nathaniel Starbuck" American Civil War saga, his archer's "Grail Quest" series, or Arthurian "Warlord Chronicles."
Every now and then, a reader will seriously ask me if Richard Sharpe was a real person. This, I would think, would be the ultimate complement for a historical novelist. 385 pages. Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, high school librarian.