It was the most impregnable fortress in all India – Gawlighur – and the opposing forces were safely holding it.
But Sharpe, newly appointed an officer by Wellesley, has his own enemies to fight on every hand. The officers in his new regiment resent his arrival, Obadiah Hakeswill is determined to have his revenge, and renegades within the British army want to retain control of their own area…
After finishing one of my reads for Net Galley, I figured I could relax and read a Sharpe novel – let’s ignore that I have since added a couple more to my Net Galley list!
Sharpe’s Fortress is the third in chronological order of the long-running Sharpe series and, I believe, the last that is set in India. Sharpe, now, Ensign Sharpe and officer risen from the ranks in the British Army, where he has his sights firmly on making his enemies pay for their slights against him.
Being an officer doesn’t make that any easier than it should be and along with the, still wonderful characterisations of Richard Sharpe, are a handful of new characters to work there way into Sharpe, and the readers, ire. Sharpe doesn’t quite fit in anywhere in the army anymore and has regrets about becoming an officer – which he laments a fair few times throughout Sharpe’s Fortress. So he is put into the company of Captain Torrance; a lazy, swindler who is in charge of the bullock-trains of supply within the Army. He works closely with none-other-than Obidiah Hakeswill which doesn’t help paint him in a fond light for the new Officer and the run in’s between all these characters, the underhanded tactics employed are rather entertaining in their own right.
Things along the plotline only go from bad to worse for Ensign Sharpe and while some of these elements might be a little far-fetched, they link back to the previous books in the series which adds to Sharpe’s Fortress’ merit.
The pacing of this particular Sharpe novel felt faster than the previous offerings. There was a feeling of desperation; like an end goal is in sight and we’re on a mad dash to get there. However, nothing felt rushed. All the descriptions of the technical aspects to the novel fit in place perfectly, the dialogue was smooth and the characterisations were apt. The plot still manages to throw the occasional hurdle in Sharpe’s way without it feeling stilted.
Sharpe really comes into his element in Sharpe’s Fortress and it felt like that the previous two books were just doing the hard, groundwork to enable this book to breathe Sharpe’s character to life. He now has something to prove. He has to show that he is in the right place as an officer and it is during the climax of the book, the siege of Gawilghur – an impenetrable Fortress – in which all of Sharpe’s particular skills come into play; especially the ones in which an officer of the British Army should have no business employing!
What I find particularly enjoyable about the Sharpe novels is their sensationalism. So far we’ve had people; eaten by tigers, stomped on by elephants, tortured by Indian strongmen. We’ve had sieges, pitched-battles and heroic saving of the day all within the first few books and Sharpes has been there every step of the way with only a manly-facial scar to show for it all! The Sharpe series does require a certain suspension of belief; they are not quite historically accurate, but they sure are entertaining and if they open up an interest in people to discover the truth there’s the handy historical note at the end of the book which makes up for the fact that Sharpe has stolen the limelight; this section always tells a bit more truth behind the actual events.
There’s a female character in Sharpe’s Fortress, Mrs Clare Wall but she is somewhat unremarkable compared to the ladies in the previous novels. I think the women in the series are following some sort of formula; they’re a new semi-love interest for Sharpe to spend a night with and then get flitted away somehow. They run off, find someone else or some-other-reason. They feel a bit like a token gesture at this point, but, let’s be fair, you’re reading a Sharpe book for the fight-scenes and battles, not the romance aspect!
My only real gripe with Sharpe’s Fortress was the final show-down with Colonel William Dodd, as a major villain from the previous novel I was expecting something a bit more… heroic with his final encounter with Sharpe, sadly is was somewhat unremarkable and underwhelming. Especially after the heart-pounding breaking of the siege and Sharpe’s heroics involved there.
Also, at this point, I would have thought that Sharpe could have employed at least a slither of common-sense when it comes to getting rid of Sergeant Hakeswill. He’s tried Tigers, Elephants and now… snakes!? I get the feeling that, despite leaving India, this isn’t the last we will be seeing of Obadiah Hakeswill. I’m not sure if I am pleased about this or not; the character himself is vile and worthy of hatred but there is a perverse sense of entertainment in his relationship with Sharpe and I think the books would suffer without that dynamic involved.
One thing that I have noticed with the Sharpe books; at the end of each chapter there is a passage of foreshadowing. There are usually only a short sentence or two, but they’re usually well-considered and I found this one of particular enjoyment.
Sharpe’s Fortress is an absolutely sublime book which rounds off the story of Sharpe’s time in India perfectly. It ties up any loose ends from the previous books and deepens the character arcs as well as gives a little foresight into Sharpes future. The characters are enjoyable in their sensationalism which do require a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief. It has a high entertainment factor which is enhanced by the accessibility of the technical elements within.