Flash for Freedom! by George MacDonald Fraser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Flashman continues his infamous adventures in the land of the free now and before getting there engages in a bit of slave trade himself, get chased by a group of Amazons of the Dahomey coast and lands in N'Awleans with the Captain of the slave ship, slightly more sociopath than Flashman himself. Kidnapped by the underground railroad and assuming a dead man's identity, Flashman manages to become a plantation overseer, murder accomplice and much more before returning to the mouth of Mississippi.
Flashman intrigues not just because of the bawdiness of the tale it tells but also because of the historical context of the tale itself. Here we come across the young Disraeli, Lincoln (who surprisingly plays a bigger role), Gladstone and many more. It is interesting to watch out for the subtle clues to the other celebrities of the era, like the famous Captain Horace Bixby, who had a apprentice named Sam Clemens a.k.a Mark Twain.
There are many such references and the oddity of a slave ship captain quoting endlessly from the Latin classics, Flashman's incognito and the crossing of the Ohio river (not very different from 'Uncle Tom's Cabin) are as amusing as the thoughts of Flashman himself.
Of course, the title of the book refers to the fact that Flashman is for his freedom and does not refer to the slaves at all. That political incorrectness is what makes this one and the series so good.
Overall, the book ends in a way dis-satisfactorily (at least to myself) and is supposed to be continued in the next installation. And if you are looking for a nice 'the good are rewarded and the bad are punished' kind-of ending, this is not your book (and for that matter, you can give the entire Flashman series a pass!).
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Flashman at the Charge by George MacDonald Fraser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"You know, the advantage to being a wicked bastard is that everyone pesters the Lord on your behalf." - Flashman
Reading through the Flashman series, it is easy to get confused to pick a favorite. The humor of the book gets sharp by every book and the detailing of the events in the narrative gets better and better it becomes difficult to pick A favorite.
'Flashman at the Charge' is in a way the standard Flashman book. It starts off with Flashman trying his best to avoid getting into the Crimean war. But being the 'Hero of Afghanistan' it is difficult to dodge one's duty to the country. And hence, ships off to Crimea.
In the meanwhile, he picks up a rivalry with Lord Cardigan, whom he literally catches with his wife with his pants down. Being a peer and arrogant to boot, Flashman has to swallow his pride and work with the Lord in Crimea. Which makes him a caustic observer of the course of events starting with Balaclava to the Charge of the light brigade.
Flashman is captured by the Russians at this time and shipped off to a middle of nowhere in Russian wilderness. The middle part concerns Flashman's efforts in enjoying being the prisoner and avoiding the wild escape plans of his mate and school friend, East. After a tryst with the local lord's daughter, Flashman escapes and is caught again and is attached to the Russian army for the capture of Indus.
After escaping the Russians and with Yakub Beg, Flashman has his revenge and travels through Afghanistan into India. The story thus, in a way, sweeps wildly through the Central Asia during the 1850s and captures the history of the region.
Though the story by itself is enchanting, the history by no means, lags behind. Whether you are a serious history buff or a light reader, Flashman manages to tie these seemingly distant ends brilliantly.
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Flashman And The Angel Of The Lord by George MacDonald Fraser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The problem with historical fiction is that it needs to have the right mix of history intermingled with the fiction without sounding ridiculous in the process. This installment of the Flashman papers suffers because the history part gets a little overwhelming with Flashman dangling in the midst.
And the great ensemble of the cast starting with the Governor of the Cape colony, Edward Grey to the (in)famous Allan Pinkerton, William Seward, more senators, Crixus from the Underground railroad, the Kuklos, Robert Lee, JEB Stuart and of course, John Brown and his puppies, as Flashman calls them. Not including the fictional cast, that is a lot of people to just keep track of their movements in the real history. It shows as Flashman gets into places when it is convenient and gets back when it is not.
That however, does not diminish in anyway the joy of reading another Flashman (mis)adventure. He is his usual self again, bawdy, cowardly, ready to run in a moment, bumbling his way into the great events that always have a knack of happening around him. John Charity Spring makes another appearance, packing Flashman back into the United States for just punishment for 'lusting' after his daughter, Miranda.
Flashman gets abducted, first by the underground railroad, then by the Kuklos and then again by Pinkerton's agents. So, he kind of becomes a triple agent in the midst of John Brown's group preparing for raiding Harper's Ferry. What happens next is classic Flashman as he tries his best to run from the raid, only to find himself sucked more and more into the middle of it. Of course, he finds ways to end up in bedrooms in the middle of the raid.
Fraser obviously is enamored by John Brown, the man. Though Flashman says the darnedest things about him, Brown comes out of the book with a halo around his head. Of course, the man deserves it for swaying the opinions of the country with his raid.
My only regret is that Fraser never wrote the Flashman volumes on his service with the Union and Confederate armies. That would've been something.
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