Sharpe's Fortress is the third of the stories about Richard Sharpe in India. If you haven't read Sharpe's Tiger and Sharpe's Triumph, I strongly urge you to read those books before this one. You'll like them, and they provide very helpful background for the events in Sharpe's Fortress.
After saving Sir Arthur Wellesley's life at the Battle of Assaye (described in Sharpe's Triumph, book two in chronology in the series), Richard Sharpe was raised out of the ranks into the officer class as an ensign. In Sharpe's Fortress, it becomes obvious that he's arrived in no man's land in a Scottish unit. The Scots don't want any English in the unit; most ensigns are about 12 years old and don't do anything except watch; and men in the ranks are jealous of Sharpe's promotion.
It is kindly suggested that Sharpe either sell his commission or join a new unit, one based in England. Sharpe doesn't want to do either one, and he's even more depressed when he is asked to take a temporary assignment helping get the supplies up to the front lines.
Arriving at his new assignment, it's clear that something is badly wrong. Needed supplies are being stolen left and right. Sharpe quickly gets to the bottom of the thefts and develops new enemies. Meanwhile, his old enemy Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill has survived Sharpe's last attempt to do away with him in Sharpe's Triumph and has new plans for Sharpe.
The main focus of the story is on the continuing war between the British and their allies and the Mahrattas in India. Turncoat William Dodd has gained every higher rank in the Mahratta forces and is looking forward to a huge victory when the British come to attack the seemingly impregnable fortress of Gawilghur. Much of the story is taken up with various defenders imagining how they will destroy the British in the different traps that await them in the high fortress.
Those extremely detailed descriptions of the fortress become more than a little tiresome. You do have a reward, however, because you'll better understand the story that Cornwell tells about how the battle is won. Actually, the fictional report isn't terribly far off from the actual experience as the historical note indicates. It is only the exaggerated role for Sharpe that misleads . . . while providing a good way to help you understand the battle.
The battle scenes are terrific in this book. It's only the tedium of the redundant musings that keep this book for being a five-star effort.
As usual, Sharpe finds that while he has temporary conquests with the ladies, he isn't going to be the one who takes them home permanently.
on September 19, 2003
This is the summation of the Cornwell's "India Trilogy" which follows British Soldier Richard Sharpe during the Mahratta War of 1803. In this novel, the English army must somehow take Gawalghur, a seemingly impenetrable mountaintop fortress and last bastion of the Mahratta army.
This is an excellent historical/military novel in that the siege of Gawalghur is explained in dramatic terms; the tactics, the officers, the siege itself, are all here. As always, Cornwell is unmatched in his talent for bringing military affairs to life. I felt as if I was right there with the engineers and soldiers, sweating in the noonday sun. And, of course, the bloodletting is always well described in a cornwell book.
During the intense military maneuverings, Sharpe has uncovered a crooked officer, who is misappropriating military supplies and sealing them on the black market. Sharpe is nearly killed for his discover, and then seeks revenge Richard Sharpe style.
Just a great book with great characters. Cornwell is particularly adept at writing a great villain. Sharpe's nemesis, the horrid Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill is here, of course, but my favorite bad guy was the crooked officer Captain Torrence. This guy puts the "C" in Creepy. In a beautiful bit of character development, Cornwell has Torrence nearly always receiving his staff in the nude. He explains this nudeness by claiming that with India being so hot and all, he just finds it more comfortable. Not so bad in and of itself, but what makes him creepy is the pleasure he takes at everyone's discomfort when in his presence.
Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, is here as well, perfectly described in his ever developing relationship to Richard Sharpe.
Buy it. You can't go wrong with a Sharpe book.
on February 26, 2002
Ensign Richard Sharpe of British 74th Infantry struggles with his assignment. Newly promoted as an officer to a Scottish regiment has him feeling like a fifth wheel. When the opportunity came for reassignment, he jumped at the chance and moved to the supply division under the command of Captain Torrance. Unbeknownst to Sharpe, Captain Torrance has enlisted the aid of Sharpe's worst enemy Sargent Obadiah Hakeswill. Now Sharpe must somehow outwit and survive the evil clutches of Torrance and Hakeswill. His objective is to rid the army of these two thieves and transfer to the newly formed Rifle division. Sharpe is surrounded by crooks, feckless officers and trapped deep in enemy territory. Things are hopeless, until...the Battle For Gawilghur.
I didn't want to give too much away.
As evidenced by "Sharpe's Fortress", Bernard Cornwell writes good books. He is fun to read and his stores are always packed with adventure, action and intrigue. As with all of Sharpe books they keep you interested until the end. I have trouble putting them down. Cornwell's style is fast paced plots and he keeps the story going, you may guess the ending but who cares, half the fun is getting there.
If this is your first Sharpe book don't let it be your last, Sharpe's Eagle or Sharpe's Company are among the best in the series. However, all of Cornwell's Sharpe books are good reads, you will not be disappointed.
on January 27, 2002
Most people are familiar with Richard Sharpe from the TV series based on later action in Spain. This novel (copyright 1999) steps back in time to 1803. The setting is India, and Sharpe has just risen from the ranks to become a somewhat old ensign, resented by his new regiment ("you can put a saddle on a cart horse, but..."). The story opens with action against Mahrattas at Argaum, and ends with the siege of Gawilghur.
Sharpe is a poorly educated refuge from the streets and a foundling home, the son of a prostitute, who has found a home in the British Army. He is a rough individual, willing to slit a man's throat, especially if the person has done him wrong. He has limited luck with women and learns the meaning of "Never, never trust a woman. You'll be sorry if you do." He had some luck acquiring jewels as his share of the spoils after a previous battle, but has trouble concealing them and hanging on to them.
Sharpe must contend with old enemies, such as Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill, and some new enemies. He is a good man to have on your side in a fight, and is admired by some officers for his accomplishments. The novel has lots of action, considerable violence, but little sexual content. I would give it a PG-13 rating.
on August 13, 2001
The third volume in the saga of Richard Sharpe (biographically speaking), this is a fierce novel of land warfare, of another triumph of implacable Scot discipline over massed armies, glory, and an impregnable fort, and of Sharpe's fictional role in graphically described historical battles. This volume, last of Sharpe's "conquest of India" trilogy, has a hard act to follow after #2 (Sharpe's Triumph), where Sgt. Sharpe saved a general and obtained his heart's desire, promotion to officerdom. But Cornwell surpasses it with non-stop action, intrigue, and desperation. Now a lowly and apparently penniless Ensign, Sharpe is subject to condescension from officers of "quality" and must doubt his own skills and determination. Nevertheless, we see other men, and officers, flocking to him as an outstanding leader beset by adversities, particularly in the form of his immortal and bottomlessly malicious enemy, Sgt. Hakeswill. Cornwell's vivid descriptions of the awesomely black and terrifying cliff-top fortress of Gawilghur make me wish to see it if I ever go to India.
on June 10, 2001
I have found that I like Richard Sharpe in India even more that I like him in Spain. This is likely because you don't see much fiction on the particular war in question elsewhere. Cornwell handles this setting well from details on how a cannon ball is meant to take out ranks to the culture of the foe and friend in India. As always the action is great, the battles realistic and the characters great. If there is any weakness to be found it is working under the limitations of a prequel. I think the arab servant would have been a great character to bring to England, (It would have made the next two books more interesting.) Of course we KNOW Sharpe will survive and his son will be in America to meet Starbuck. (I have this picture in my mind of Sharpe's young arab servant grown up and the mentor of Patrick in the Crimeria.) Cornwell writes a great book and his look at the British Army Circa 1800-1815 and the way the average soldier thinks is yet another reason to buy and enjoy this series. Lets hope Cornwell never gets bored with this character. We certanily wont.
on March 3, 2001
"Sharpe's Fortress" or the Battle of Gawilghur takes place in India in 1803. Richard Sharpe learns that he must make choices in his life as a soldier, and he must either stay in his position as an ensign or resign his commission when he returns to England in the near future after the battle. He learns to live the life of the soldier, as well as the officer that he is. He seizes command and goes into the fortress to sieze it at a terrible cost to the british and the indian soldiers who fight. He has many enemies in this book and he is forced to deal with his enemy, Captain Dodd, and also his hatred for Obadiah Hakeswill causes Sharpe to take harsh action against Obadiah at the conclusion of the novel. He is a good officer he is the child soldier who grows into the man who becomes the professional soldier who makes the army his life! He takes a realistic look at war and sees the hell and he also sees the beauty of war, and he becomes part of the war, and does his job and does it well so that Sir Arthur Wellesley can claim victory for the battle. It is a novel of blood and it is a novel of terror it is a novel of what war is all about! And it is one that you will either enjoy or not enjoy! It is Bernard Cornwell at his best, and it is Richard Sharpe as you usually do not see him, he is vulnerable, he is wounded in battle, and he learns that he can be part of a vicious assault on a fort and remain alive. If you read all of the "Richard Sharpe" novels be sure to read this one, its the last of the India series, and I did enjoy the novel, and look forward to his next "Sharpe" novel.
on January 19, 2001
Although I prefer Bernard Cornwell's books on his hero, Richard Sharpe's daring exploits during the Peninsular War, this story--the third and final one set in India--about the young Sharpe's life as a newly made Ensign in the British Army is the best. In the previous book, Sharpe's Triumph, we learnt exactly how the then Sergeant Sharpe saved Sir Arthur Wellesley's (later Duke of Wellington's) life at the Battle of Assaye. Now, we see how Sharpe tries to adjust to the rank of Ensign that was thrust upon him for that heroic deed. All the elements of the other Sharpe novels are present here. The battles, especially the storming of the apparently inpenetrable fortress of Gawilghur, are excellently and vividly written. Sharpe is again with his back up against a wall in having to deal with both men and officers who resent that he's been "brought up", and facing his old nemesis, the twitching and sly Obadiah Hakeswill, once more. It's interesting to see this early relationship between protaganist and antagonist knowing how it plays out in the Peninsular portion of the series. Bernard Cornwell does take some creative license with history, but it is clear (as in all his books) how thoroughly researched it is. I always enjoy Cornwell's historical notes, and seeing what really happened. I'm looking forward to reading the next installment and seeing Sharpe marching on once more!
on January 5, 2001
The third in Cornwall's pre-series, "Sharpe's Fortress" finds Richard Sharpe back in India on his final adventure there before returning to take up arms against the French in Spain. With over 15 novels in this series, Sharpe may be starting to get a little worn, but Cornwall's compelling writing and genius for historical detail, espcially in military matters, always makes every Sharpe novel a worthwhile and interesting read. After Wellsely's (later Duke of Wellington) astonishing victory at Assaye, the remnants of the Mahratta confederation fell back upon their supposedly inpregnible fortress at Gawilghur. The interesting thing about Cornwall is that he brings to life often obscure aspects of military history during the Napoleanic period. While certainly a few have heard of Sir Arthur's great victory at Assaye in 1803, the subsequent siege of the Mahratta hill fortress has generally been religated as a footnote in the establishment of the British empire in India. Cornwall shows that despite eventual British triumph, the siege was no cake walk for them. The short-work that the assulting British troops finally made of the defending Indian garrison may offend the Politically Correct today. And yes, this is a book about run down red-coats like Richard Sharpe, and is not meant to tell the story from the perspective of the Mahratta, or Indians in general. Cornwall revels in the persona of the underdog British redcoat, that down-trodden creature of Britains pre-industrial slums, of which Richard Sharpe is a prime example. While Sharpe does come across as almost super-human in this book, and indeed the entire series, his character personifies the tough, gritty determination of the British soldier in this period. There is a reason why a handful of red-coats conquered India, and while this may offend our sensibilities today, we can gain from understanding how and by whom it was accomplished. India as a nation did not exist in 1800, and the various petty states that existed were never able to present a united front against the small British presence there. A handful of "Sharpes" under brilliant leadership were able to conquer an entire continent. As Europeans, we should not be ashamed of this, and should rather endeavor to understand how it came to happan in the first place. Cornwall's historical fiction provides a glimpse as to how this was done, by showing the various personalities and characters involved, and by weaving fiction with fact, we gain an understanding of long forgotton battlefields in distant and exotic lands. Cornwall's writing is graphic and violent at times, but no one ever said the early 19th century was ever a gentle and nice place to live! The novels of Jane Austen provide a false perspective in this regard. Sharpe and those like him were considered animals by polite society, yet their blood and sweat made Britain an empire. Those with politically correct views, may be offended, but might just learn something in the process. Sharpe continues to march on, providing entertainment and high adventure, as well as fine historical detail. What better combination can one ask for!
on December 11, 2000
This book completes Cornwell's trilogy of historical novels chronicling Supersoldier Richard Sharpe's military career in India through 1803. The trilogy is a prequel to Sharpe's adventures during the Napoleonic Wars shown in a series on Masterpiece Theatre a few years ago. Sharpe is the eternal outsider: never fitting in; never accepted by his immediate superiors; always battling the incompetence and villainy that pervades the British army; and always winning the devotion and respect of those with "the right stuff". Like the entire series, this book is packed with great battle action and realistic gore. It is, as they say, a good read.
Where would Major General Arthur Wellsley(that shall be Duke of Wellington hereafter) be without Sharpe? Sharpe has already saved his life (in Sharpe's Triumph), earning himself promotion from the ranks. In Sharpe's Fortress he finds the key which allows Wellsley to capture Gawilghur, the impregnable stronghold of the Mahrattas, ending resistance to British rule in western India. In the future Sharpe will help Wellsley/Wellington restore his trooops' morale (Sharpe's Eagle), recover his hijacked payroll (Sharpe's Gold), expel the French from Spain (Sharpe's Honour) and win the battle of Waterloo (Sharpe's Waterloo).
Other reviewers, both amateur and professional, praise the accuracy of Cornwell's historical detail. I concur if that refers to details of life in the British Army of the early 19th century, the minutia of military equipment etc. There are some minor anachronisms in this book. Wellsley is referred to as "Sir Arthur" although he wasn't knighted until his return from India. Sharpe uses the image "quick as a jackrabbit" even though, as a London urchin, he would have had scant chance of knowing about a creature whose territory was just being explored by the first english-speakers like Lewis and Clark. Sharpe's nemesis, Sergeant Hakeswill, yearns "Haven't tasted a 'tater in months. Christian food, that, see?" despite the fact that potatoes did not become popular among English common folk until after the Napoleonic Wars.
My biggest quibble involves Corwell's historical perspective -- not his details. In his "Historical Note", he says that British losses at Gawilghur of 150 was a "small butcher's bill". He doesn't seem to count the thousands of Indians slaughtered there as part of the butcher's bill. He makes us see the inequalities and stupidities of the class-ridden British Army through Sharpe's eyes, but one will have to look elsewhere for a Mahratta's view of the events in the India of 1803.
Cornwell would have us see the British invaders as plucky, clever underdogs -- outnumbered and outgunned by fierce warriors in an impregnable fortress. Only in his afterword does he admit that the quick victory might lead one to "the supposition is that the defenders were thoroughly demoralized." But that won't do because it would turn the epic heroics of Sharpe and his friends into just another massacre! I find Sharpe and Wellsley easier to take when they are fighting Frogs rather than Wogs.