Saturday, December 31, 2005

George MacGonald Fraser - Flashman on the March

The arrival of the latest Flashman novel has always been a source of some rejoicing in this reader’s heart. Flashman, as most of you will be aware, is the coward and bully from Tom Brown’s Schooldays who proceeds to become an unwitting hero of Victorian colonialism.

Flashman takes part in most of the glorious failures and momentous victories of that era, both for the British and various other governments. He rides with the Light Brigade, is the only survivor to escape the massacre of Custer’s troops at the Little Big Horn and serves in the Indian Mutiny, at Rorke’s Drift and just about every other engagement you can think of.

The last couple of novels that George McDonald Fraser has written have dealt with some of the smaller and less obscure campaigns of that period. Somewhat frustrating for those of us who are desperate to read about Flashman’s involvement in the US civil war (he fought on both sides) or the first Sikh War.

This one deals with the little remembered expedition that Britain sent to Abyssinia in 1867, to release the British captives of King Theodore.

King Theodore was mostly described by people who came into contact with him as “mad”. But this, as Fraser points out in the short appendix is probably an unfair description. The monarch was a brutal, murderous individual, who was given to flights of fancy, split personalities, drunkenness and massacring people. But whether this is enough to get him certified is a different question.

The expedition that Britain sent out, was a classic example of the mighty forces of Britian (colonial troops did most of the fighting though) crushing an upstart ruler.

Flashman’s role is peripheral to the main fighting (just as he would prefer!), though he has a significant background part.

It’s an enjoyable read, but I fear that the obscure nature of the event itself means that the work isn’t comparable to earlier stories. On the other hand, it’s the sort of novel that will inspire others to read more about this particular period, which in an era of armies being sent abroad to quell rulers who get out of line, is not necessarily a bad thing.


maeve66 said...

Oh, my god, I am totally a Flashman fan, even though I go through periodic moments of deep guilt for liking this unabashedly and very much unapologetically sexist racist character. I actually bought a used copy of Tom Brown's School Days, though I haven't yet been able to bring myself to read it.

But I've loved all of the books, and own all of them, in fact, and every now and then I go on a re-reading orgy. Your review may spark one. I'm glad there's a new one.

What are your favorites? I've always liked the Great Mutiny one and the first one, and I was impressed with the John Brown one. Have you read his Regency novel about an American (African-American, in fact) boxer imported to Regency England, also based on history, and involving (for his loyal fans), Flashmans' father?

Man... for some reason, I'm really glad you like somewhat less weighty history-based fiction, like this. I've always loved MacDonald Fraser, since reading the first book I ever saw of his.

Resolute Reader said...

I love all the Flashman novels, though some are weaker than the others. For the record I think the oneon the Indian Mutiny and the Crimean War are the best. Though "Flashman and the Redskins" is very good too.

The other novel you refer to, is Black Ajax. About the boxer Thomas Molineux, a former slave who came to England and almost defeated Tom Cribb in the ring.

Black Ajax, is in someways far superior to the Flashman novels, dealing as it does with racism and class in a more detailed way. Certainly it's well worth a read for any Flashman fan. As are two of his other novels "Mr American" and "Pyrates". Though I can take or leave Fraser's stuff on Burma and the army.

The Rush Blog said...

Here is something on King Tewodros II of Ethopia that I found on WIKIPEDIA:

Tewodros II