Title: Sharpe’s Tiger
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication date: April 2000
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Private Collection
In this adventure, Sharpe is on his way home from India. He is sailing with the Royal Navy, who are hunting a formidable French warship, the ‘Revenant’, carrying a secret treaty that may prove lethal to the British.
The ‘Revenant’ makes it to the safety of the French and Spanish fleets off Cadiz, and it seems Sharpe’s enemies have found safety. Yet over the horizon is another fleet, led by Nelson, and Sharpe’s revenge will come in a savage climax when the two armadas meet on a calm October day off Cape Trafalgar.
Moving through the series at a decent pace now, it seems. My adoration for this series has grown pretty quickly, so I am pleased I was able to pick up the next book so soon.
Sharpe’s Trafalgar is the 4th in Chronological Order of Bernard Cornwells Sharpe series and sees the titular character leaving India, heading for home and temporarily joining the Royal Navy on board the Pucelle.
This is the first book in the series that I, unfortunately, struggled with. There’s a couple of reasons for this.
One of my biggest concerns with Historical Fiction is that I’ll get swept away underneath all the technical jargon of bygone eras. This is something that I have been able to avoid in other Bernard Cornwell novels in the series, but alas, Sharpe’s Trafalgar beat me! Compared to the land-based battles in the previous books, which I kept a decent grasp of, there was a lot more technical terminology to the seafaring that left me somewhat lost at times. I don’t know if this is entirely at the blame of the book, but considering the previous novels were so well explained and blended well with the story I expected the same from this one also. Maybe naval warfare is just that bit more in-depth compared and I don’t have the faculties to keep up with all the terms.
Another issue I had with this book is that Sharpe himself felt a little bit in the background compared to the Pucelles Captain; Captain Chase. Chase, I felt drive these tory in a forward momentum compared to Sharpe who was more content to having an adulterous affair with the wife of the nobility and getting himself into trouble on that front. While Captain Chase, while a grand character in himself, did most of the footwork with the plot on the battle-front. Although Sharpe had a good role in the final battle and it was exciting to see him in action again, I do feel a little bit let down by the path he took. I do hope that the long-winded affair has a bigger part to play further down the line in the series as it’ll make the vast majority of Sharpe’s Trafalgar feel pointless if not, which would be a tragic waste of page time; but I’m speculating. I didn’t really find the love affair to be all that believable either; a woman of high standing that is in a loveless, but not abusive marriage, has become so bored of her arranged marriage that she stoops to the underclasses to entertain herself. I could understand if she was using Sharpe for protection – after hearing the heroic tale of Sharpe and Wellesley – but to encourage Sharpe to murder her High Society husband and throw away a life of privilege seems incredulous!
In parts, Sharpe himself seemed a bit out-of-himself. In Sharpe’s Trafalgar we get glimpses of a truly sadistic man that will do anything to get what he wants – in this case Lady Grace – which felt a bit jarring. We’ve seen him protect himself against adversity and ruthlessly kill to save his own hide, but in Sharpe’s Trafalgar this is taken to the next level. Although Sharpe certainly has the ‘loveable rogue’ element to him, here he pushed that to near villainy and in part, it has made me question is he is a likeable character or not. He is certainly an enjoyable one and despite my misgivings, I did enjoy reading Sharpe’s Trafalgar, it’s a good book. Of particular note is how Sharpe initially met Captain Chase and the dilemma they faced which helped them forge a firm friendship; I found this gave a credible backstory which helped play out further down the line when the who re-met on board the Pucelle.
The middle of this book was a little drab compared to the previous offerings in the series, filled mostly with Sharpe and Lady Grace’s affair and seemingly never ending dinner conversations complaining about depleting rations. But the reader is certainly rewarded for sticking with the book and waiting until the final battle.
Despite my confusion with them, the battle scenes in Sharpe’s Trafalgar were well constructed and filled with the action-packed sensationalism that I have already come to expect from a Sharpe novel. There is a visceral horror to the description of injured soldiers and a seemingly callous feeling to how the battle-dead are treated. The descriptions of the various events are in keeping with the rest of the series and vividly portrayed.
There is already a pattern of repetition occurring with this series; Sharpe has an affair with a woman that he either cannot have, shouldn’t have or tosses aside for something better. He heroically saves the day by doing something extraordinary and kills a key figure (or attempts too) towards the end. As soon as the main battle of the book is over-with, the book ends rather swiftly. I’m not complaining, sometimes it’s nice to come across a series that reads a bit like comfort food. Considering I have ordered a copy of the next book already, Sharpe’s Trafalgar can’t have been all bad!
Sharpe’s Trafalgar is not a terrible book by any stretch of the imagination, but just not as solidly written as the previous instalments in the series. A higher focus on Sharpe’s love affair leaving the main plot to be fleshed out by other character, which, while enjoyable, just aren’t Sharpe!