Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sharpe's Tiger by Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe's Tiger pits a young Richard Sharpe against the Muslim ruler, the Tippoo, of Mysore. It's another strong entry in the series and for me, was a bit different in that this Sharpe is a little more raw, a little more untested, a little more friendless. While his skill set isn't in question, his lack of fine allies like the giant Harper in later volumes, does set the stage differently.

Bernard Cornwell makes India a fascinating and terrifying place. A land of different religions which the British use to their own advantage. In this it is different than other entries in the Sharpe's series as most often, the British are seen fighting fellow Christians.

Hero, the Tippo is a Muslim ruling over an Indian country. But he is a 'bad' Muslim in the novel in that he still pays heed to dreams and has soothsayers on staff in order to provide meanings to signs and portents.

As chronologically, this novel is set before ever other Sharpe novel I read, it was interesting to see Richard evolve. He's seen at heart as a 'good' person, but has a ruthlessness at his core that enables him to act in ways that the 'proper' officers and other individuals would not.

Colorful characters abound in the story. One of Shapre's foes, Hakeswell, had the honor of not dying from being hung and claims that he cannot die! He's also described as 'twitchy' from a disease that was cured with mercury. He's also always claiming "It's in the Scriptures!" for his foul behaviors.

These distinguishing features allow the cast to be more than just backdrops that Sharpe interacts with. They help give him direction and even when in opposition, help set the direction of the tale.

If you're looking for action filled historical adventure, Sharpe's Tiger hits the spot.

Now onto the ramblings!

One of the reasons I'm always advocating reading more, is that it increases your baseline of information. It allows you to enjoy connections that other people simply aren't going to see.

For example, the Tippo employees jetti. "The jettis were Hindus, and their strength, which was remarkable, was devoted to their religion."In the manga Berserk, there is a fantasy analog to parts of the middle east, like India, called Kushan. Among those in the ranks? Individuals that would be the jetti under any other name.

Having that reference allowed me to get an idea of what the jetti were capable of, and the Tippo here uses them as executioners in a horrific manner including breaking the necks of people like chicken's and driving nails into skulls and brains.

It's why, even as life gets busier and things at work get more hectic, I try to keep reading and try to keep reading a bit of a variety of materials. The larger your circle of reference points, the more interconnected things can be in your own mind if nowhere else.

The Tippo is also a 'tiger' man in motif and theme. Take for example, his unclaimed throne, the tiger throne. "...his throne, which was a canopied platform eight feet wide, five foot deep, and held four feet above the tiled floor by a model of a snarling tiger that supported the platform's center and was flanked on each side by four carved tiger legs. Two silver gilt ladders gave access to the throne's platform which was made of ebony wood on which a sheet of gold, thick as a prayer mat, had been fixed with silver nails. The edge of the platform was carved with quotations form the Koran, the Arabic letters picked out in gold, which above each of the throne's eight legs was a finial in the form of a tiger's head. The tiger heads were each the size of a pineapple, cast from solid gold and studded with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds...."

It's a long and glorious description of a truly masterwork of a throne. As a symbol, it's a powerful image. Much like George R. R. Martin and his now famed Game of Thrones and it's bladed throne. The imagery of tigers prevades the novel and gives this particular foe a specific theme.

When building enemies in your own games, or when making characters, think about having a particular motif. Is there a visual cue that your characters rely on that goes along with a name? Unique weapons and items?

Sharpe's Tiger also bring a different type of goal into the picture: Rescuing a well placed individual and delivering information back to the army.

In many ways, such a rescue is as old as a fairy tale: Rescuing a princess. Change the princess to a specific character with their own goals, motivations and other high end utility and well, you've got Sharpe's mission.

Having to recon the area and gather information is another part of the game.

Having goals that might be different than the standard, and having the opportunity to act on that information, can provide a bit more variety to a campaign that going into a dungeon and killing off all the monsters. You can go into the dungeon and kill off all the monsters for a specific cause!

Sharpe's Tiger is a solid historical adventure book and well worth a read if you're looking for something other than Sharpe fighting the French.