A Critique of ‘Sharpe’s Tiger’ by Bernard Cromwell

Spoilers Below! You’ve been warned. Also, all reviews are subjective. My opinions are my own. I’m writing this review as an author critiquing another author’s book, in an attempt to improve my own writing.

NOTE: I listened to the audiobook, so I don’t know how to spell the names.

I found this book by watching this book review here.


BIASES STATED

To put this review/study in proper context, you must know my starting point.

I am a regular reader of fantasy books. One of my favorite subtypes of fantasy books is the ‘Flintlock’ subgenre. This book is not fantasy, however it is certainly ‘Flintlock.’ ‘Sharpe’s Tiger’ takes place in Napoleonic-era India, meaning it contains muskets, rockets and discussions of colonialism.

I am very much so in this book’s target audience. As you read this critique, be aware that my personal bias of enjoying books of this type will influence my review.


READER’S EMOTIONAL RESPONSE/ FUN FACTOR

I enjoyed this book greatly. This is both a fun book to read, and intellectually stimulating. The author did an excellent job in brining a colonial-era British military to life, in all it’s stinking glory. The author told a gripping story, while also bringing to life a little-known corner of history.

Overall, I give the story’s Emotional Resonance: (A+)


CONCEPT AND EXECUTION

This book’s concept is: ‘British soldiers must go under cover as deserters in India, to get in contact with a spy in an enemy kingdom in the lead up to the colonization of that kingdom. HOWEVER, those soldiers have to deal with murderous regimental politics, racism, sexism and a sultan who uses tigers as his personal executioner.’

This is an ambitious concept, and I respect ambitious authors. HOWEVER, execution of a concept matters more than the concept itself 100% of the time.

I am happy to say that the author fully realized this concept, telling a rich and fulfilling story. I have no regrets for reading this book. I especially liked that the author made the Brisitsh seem like the greater-scope villains in this situation.

Overall, I give the story’s Concept and Execution a rating of: (A-)


CHARACTERS AND CHARACTERIZATION:

What sort of characters do you like? Do you like bombastic, ‘unrealistic’ caricatures of characters? Or do you prefer more restrained, ‘realistic’ characters?

The characters in this book are a mixture of the two. Some of the characters, like Sgt. Hickswell, are ‘unrealistic’ caricatures. Meanwhile other characters like Mary are ‘realistic’ characters. All are well written.

Now, I want to write a defense of ‘unrealistic’ characters.

Hickswell is an utterly despicable human being with no redeeming value. He’s cartoonishly, laughably petty, vindictive, racist and evil. He’s so extremely villainous, and has such quirky speech patterns, I have to say that no human has ever been like him ever.

In the modern literary movement, there has been a tendency to try to capture the ‘real life’ of the human condition in the page. Hickswell is so evil that he has more in common with a Saturday morning cartoon villain than a human being.

But Hickswell is a fantastic villain. He serves the plot as an antagonist very well, and he is so vividly realized that I, an extremely jaded and well-read reader, was made to viscerally hate him and cheer whenever he was nearly killed.

Hickswell isn’t realistic, but he is compelling. When storytelling, being compelling is everything.

All the other characters were well written too. Most were of the ‘realistic’ mode. I enjoyed Sharpe and his lieutenant. I thought the sultan was a fascinating take on a ruler doing his best to remain free of the scourge of British rule. Mary had a compelling character arc, starting with having no place to call her own due to her biracial nature, but eventually finding a new family for herself. I very much so enjoyed the casual, murderous indifference of the British officer core, because they were both heartbreakingly vindictive and eminently believable in their bureauocratic villainy.

Overall, I give the story’s Characterization a rating of: (A+)


PACING AND STRUCTURE

Well paced and structured. It had a somewhat slow start before the main plot got going, but that start was nonetheless compelling and did a good job of setting up the characters.

I will be analyzing this book using the 5 act format.

  1. The Status Quo
    1. The status quo is introduced with Sharpe getting into his first battle- and is nearly unfairly punished by Hickswell.
    2. The act ends when two things happens.
      1. Sharpe asks for permission to marry his girlfriend Mary… setting off Hickswell’s plot of trying to kill Sharpe because Hickswell also loves her.
      2. A British officer is captured by the sultan- an officer with valuable info needed to defeat the sultan.
  2. Challenge to the Status Quo
    1. Sharpe is baited into punching Hickswell… leading to Sharpe being sentenced to death-by-lashes.
    2. Sharpe’s lieutenant saves Sharpe’s life… but only after Sharpe has suffered 200 lashes.
    3. Sharpe and his lieutenant then go on a secret mission to save the captured officer.
  3. The Turning Point/ The Road of Trials
    1. Under cover as deserters, they use Sharpe’s lashing wounds to provide a plausible excuse for them to run away from the British army. They join the combined French and Indian army.
    2. This act ends when Sharpe accidentally gets his British platoon killed, when he leads them into a trap on behalf of his new Indian/French masters. Sadly, Hickswell survives.
  4. Escalation of the Challenge
    1. Hickswell survives, by trading his life in exchange for the information that Sharpe and the lieutenant are undercover spies. Sharpe’s captured.
    2. Sharpe is imprisoned with the imprisoned British officer. Sharp learns the secret info.
    3. The act ends when the British begin their final attack upon the sultan’s citadel.
  5. Climax and Conclusion
    1. Sharpe and his lieutenant Bill are freed by Mary.
    2. Just in time, using the secret info, Sharpe causes a chain of events which causes the Indian army to lose the battle.
    3. Sharpe defeats the sultan. He tries to kill Hickswell, but sadly Hickswell survives.
    4. Mary stays behind and marries a local. Sharpe is happy for her, and wishes his ex-girlfriend well. Sharpe gets promoted.

Overall, I give the story’s Pacing and Structure: (A)


PLOT, STAKES AND TENSION

This is a really good, tight plot. It is a compelling tale both in terms of storytelling and action.

Now, I’ll be honest: the author doesn’t throw in any unexpected twists. The author makes the protagonists into spies, and then the expected plot-points happen: the spies are caught, and have to break out of jail. The author introduces a feral tiger executioner, and then the protagonists have to kill the tiger.

This is good foreshadowing, and good foreshadowing is good storytelling. But sometimes I enjoy having the author take an idea in an unexpected direction. I probably feel this way because of my background in the fantasy genre, where subverting tropes is the order of the day, so it’s not really fair that the author didn’t live up to my expectations informed by another genre. However, I can’t change how I feel, so I’m going to dock a few points for that.

The book’s stakes are good. Failure at many points in this story would result in the death of the protagonists, or Mary being sold into a brothel. Tension was likewise good, as a result of the good stakes.

Overall, I give the story’s Plot: (A-)


AUTHORIAL VOICE (TONE, PROSE AND THEME)

I enjoyed the author’s voice. He really did a good job of capturing the vibe of class-and-race conflict present at the time. For example, not only is there white-vs-black conflict, there’s also English-vs-Irish. The tone was ‘realistically’ dark, while still being heroic. The military had a turn-of-the-1800’s-century, working class vibe I enjoyed.

I give the Authorial Voice: (B+)


SETTING, WORLDBUILDING AND ORIGINALITY

This was an Alternate History book, taking place in 1799 India. The author did an okay job bringing the setting to life. The one major inconsistency I saw was the Muslim antagonist ‘sacrificing’ prisoners.

I give the Setting: (B)


AUDIOBOOK NOTES

The audiobook narrator was fantastic. He did a great job of capturing Hickswell.

I give the Audiobook: (A-)


LESSONS LEARNED

  • The author used a distant 3rd person writing style, sometimes falling back on head-hopping. Ordinarily this is frowned upon, but the author makes it work. Therefore, it’s okay to sometimes break the rules.
  • Unrealistic characters can be more compelling than realistic ones. Good storytelling must be compelling, above all.

WHAT IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE?

People who want to read a military, adventure novel, starring a British private.

16 and older


SUMMARY

A thorougly enjoyable military, adventure, Alternate History novel set in British-occupied India in 1799.


Literary Rating: B (A= As good as or better than award winning books, B= Not as good as award winners, but still very good, C= Good, not great, D= Fun, but flawed, F= Not recommended)

Enjoyment Rating: 5 OUT OF 5 STARS (5 Stars=Perfect, 4 Stars=Great, 3 Stars=Good, 2 Stars=Fun but Flawed, 1 Star=Not Recommended) (Enjoyment means two things: how much fun did I have reading this book? And how much did this book make me think about real world issues?)


Goodreads

Genres/Tagwords: Adventure, Military, Flintlock, Alternate History

Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:


Did you like this critique/review? Here are some more:

  1. A Literary Study of ‘A Master of Djinn’ by P. Djeli Clark
  2. A Review of ‘The Haunting of Tram Car 015’ by P. Djeli Clark
  3. Why you should read ‘Rings, Swords and Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature’ by Michael D. C. Drout
  4. A Literary Study of ‘Gideon the Ninth’ by Tamsyn Muir
  5. A Review of ‘The Book of Rumi’ by Rumi
  6. A Review of ‘Unsouled’ by Will Wight
  7. A Review of ‘Terrier’ by Tamora Pierce
  8. A Review of ‘Breach of Peace’ by Daniel B. Greene

And The Rest of My In Depth Reviews

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