The Sharpe series, written by Bernard Cornwell is centered around British soldier Richard Sharpe through his early years fighting in India through the Napoleonic wars in Europe. Sharpe, the illegitimate son of a prostitute, joins the army to avoid being arrested for murder, expecting a short life.
Due to his survival instincts, intelligence and some luck, he begins his rise up the ranks, even being promoted to an officer at a time when commissions were purchased by the rich. The series chronicles not only his victories against the enemies of the crown, but his own struggles against officers who look down on him and foot soldiers who mistrust him.
Also, if you can track down the British series of movies it is worth watching; it is a faithful rendition of the books and the lead character is played by Sean Bean (the reason I fell in love with Sean Bean and to this day cry whenever his character is killed off.) The first film is Sharpe’s Rifles, the original first novel.
The first book, Sharpe’s Tiger, follows private Sharpe in India in 1799. He is once again facing a death sentence, this time for striking his sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill. However after receiving only 200 lashes he is released and assigned an impossible mission: to rescue the head of intelligence of the British East India Company from the dungeons of the Tipoo Sultan. He and Lt. William Lawford pose as deserters to infiltrate the Tipoo’s army, but are betrayed and are themselves imprisoned. Based on the beginning of this review it should be no secret that Sharpe makes it out alive, but this book lays a lot of groundwork for the rest of the series, for example the continuing conflict with Hakeswill and the fact that Lawford teaches Sharpe to read in prison (something that makes his transition to officer possible).
I began the series years ago, when the author was still writing it, but Cornwell did not write it in chronological order and after twice backtracking to new releases I lost track. Recently I have returned to the series, drawn by the wonderful characters, phenomenal historical research, strong writing and the fact that the author has finished the series.
If you’re biding your time until The Winds of Winter or are sick of mere trilogies, settle in for twenty novels and a couple short stories!