Richard Sharpe is a private, fighting with the British army in India, and he’s had enough of it. He’s ready to desert when he’s punished for striking the sergeant who is making his life a misery; the capture of a British agent by the Tippoo of Mysore provides him with an opportunity to escape – he’s asked to rescue the agent, a dangerous mission that he hopes to turn to his advantage because to save Colonel McCandless he must desert the army and join the Tippoo’s forces.
Will he desert for real, or will he find a reason to return to the British army and put on that red jacket again?
In the timeline of Richard Sharpe’s career, this book sits right at the beginning, where his rise through the ranks starts, but many of the books in the series had already been written by the time Bernard Cornwell put pen to paper on this one. The gap between the first book he wrote and this one shows; over the years he has become a much better writer, in every sense – there is more to the plot than in his early books, the characters are better developed, the narrative more flowing, and the scenes more richly described, and he manages all of that while retaining the historical accuracy he is known for.
As a fan of history, warfare, and good characters, this book has pretty much everything I want in a read. I especially like the fact that Sharpe is successful at fighting but unlucky in love, he can get the woman, he just can’t keep her; that helps to make him more human and easier to empathise with.
You don’t need to start the series with this book, but if, like me, you like to follow a character from beginning to end, you probably should.