Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cover-to-Cover Commuting: Sharpe's Tiger

In listening to audiobooks this summer, I rediscovered my love of historical fiction.  I read it often as a child, and there's a lot of great historical fiction available for all ages.  It's also something that I can use to relate to my adult patrons at the school/public library with; many enjoy historical fiction.  And it's something that appeals to both genders.  Many genres attract a certain demographic: romances are read mostly by women, thrillers by men, and so on.  There's less of that divide with novels based on historical events or set in past time periods.  True, a woman might be more likely to pick up a queenly novel by Philippa Gregory, and a man would probably gravitate toward a Civil War tome by Jeff Shaara, but many people across the span of ages and genders feel drawn to stories set in olden days.

Let me share with you a historical audiobook I recently had the pleasure of hearing.  It's Sharpe's Tiger by Bernard Cornwell, and is the first in the series about a man in the British army, beginning in southern India in 1799.

Checkouts: not owned by either library
Typical reader: Men interested in historical war fiction
Source: Interlibrary loan

Synopsis: It's 1799, and Richard Sharpe is a young private in the British army, stationed in India and marching to battle the Tippoo Sultan of Mysore and his French allies at Seringapatam.  He is rescued from the flogging post to go on a secret mission behind enemy lines to free a captured general, or at least glean vital knowledge from him to aid in the coming conflict.  Accompanying him on this quest are Lieutenant William Lawford and Sharpe's lady friend, the widowed Mary Bickerstaff.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

I have one little quibble with this book in audio format, so let me get that out of the way first.  As you may have noticed in the synopsis above, there are a lot of names involved that are difficult to spell.  An audiobook is not going to spell those out for you.  Nor is there a map to look at while you're listening, as there would be in the physical book.  Much thanks to the other reviewers on Goodreads who actually mentioned stuff by name.  (Also, Seringapatam is under a different name these days, like many other Indian cities; thankfully, Google maps recognizes that Seringapatam of old is now Srirangapatna.)

The flip side of this problem is something that really made the listening experience great: the voice actor.  Physical books don't have voice actors, of course, and do not give the readers the full flavor of the various accents and tones encountered in a given tale.  Sharpe's Tiger on audio, narrated by Frederick Davidson, takes the listener around the British Empire and then some.  Mr. Davidson manages English, Irish, Scottish, French, and Indian accents, as well as different voices for the various and sundry cast.  I particularly loved the Scottish generals: "Mah name is David Baird.  B-A-I-RRRRRR-D."

Mr. Cornwell did a lot of research into the Siege of Seringapatam, and it shows in more than just the historical notes at the end of the novel.  Details are meticulously accurate, with a mixture of real people - the Tippoo Sultan, Major General Baird, Colonel Arthur Wellesley, and others - and fictional - our hero Richard Sharpe, the French Colonel Gudin (much thanks to Sharpe's Compendium, as I thought it was Gouda before I looked it up), and the nefarious Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill.  The novel stays true to most events, with some liberties to make Sharpe the British Forrest Gump of the conquest of India and the Napoleonic Wars.

Much thanks to IX_of_Swords for the art.
This book has some memorable characters.  The most notable is Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill.  He's worth swearing over, despite the fact that my parents read this blog (Hi!).  This sergeant is a complete rat bastard, the lowest of low.  He is at once utterly despicable and amazing.  Sergeant Hakeswill hates Sharpe and will do anything to bring him down, if not outright kill him.  And that just scratches the surface of this wretched man.  This is more than just a crusty sergeant that bellows at his subordinates and makes their lives miserable; he takes pleasure in doing so.  He has a complex, to put it mildly.  In his youth, he had survived a hanging, and he believes that he cannot be killed.  He also follows many of his orders and opinions of how things should be with, "Says so in the Scriptures."  Clearly, the man has never read the Bible.  It was downright glorious when a superior officer points this out to him.  He is horrible, but he's also one of the best-written villains I've ever read.  This man deserves an award.

If I base my reviews and ratings of audiobooks on this one, there will be far fewer 5-star books.  This is one that I can rave over (as shown above) and highly recommend.  I'm eagerly awaiting the next audiobook through interlibrary loan.


  1. Parental forgiveness is gleefully granted for this very appropriate, and well placed use of foul language. Now I want to listen to the book - much more so than reading it. I wonder if I can find a way to do so on my ipod.

    1. Haha, Dad, thanks. I think you would enjoy this book.