Another rip-roaring adventure from the British Army's most noble cad. This adventure sees our reluctant hero caught up in the events surrounding the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58.
In a conflict notable for the sheer barbarism surrounding many of its shocking events, Flashy is at liberty to display his most dubious qualities of fear, funk, bluff and deceit. As a master of disguise (sometimes masquerading as a British officer) and armed with his consistent luck (Flashy would say bad luck) and his unfailing charm, he develops the uncanny ability to be present at almost every major event that made up the Indian Mutiny.
Whether its witnessing the first sparks of rebellion at Meerut, taking part in the ultimately horrific Siege of Cawnpore or risking his life to get a message from Lucknow to Campbell's relieving force (if this wasn't how it happened, it should have been), Flashy is there with his bowels in spasm and his innards
He manages too to meet a veritable 'Whos Who' of Victorian notables. Apart from the usual gang of Queen Victoria (Vicky), Prince Albert, Lord Palmerston (Pam), William Howard Russell and Lord Cardigan (Jim the Bear), our erstwhile warrior rubs shoulders with most of the notables of the Indian Mutiny, on both sides. On the British side he meets Sir Colin Campbell, General Wheeler, Johnny Nicholson, Major Vibart, Henry Kavanaugh, Sir James Outram, Lord Canning and Sir Hugh Rose, whilst on the rebel side he meets Nana Sahib. If you care to read about the true events surrounding the Indian Mutiny you will see these names figure prominently. History alas, was not so kind to our trembling friend Flashy.
Whilst enabling Flashman to display his usual cowardly, selfish and licentious side this conflict does enable us to glimpse a different side to Flashy too. He is genuinely appalled and angered, for instance, by some of the sights he sees during the conflict, particularly the decapitated body of his former lover and a babys hand "...like a little white crab in the dust." at Cawnpore Well. Was that also real tears we saw him shed as his schoolchum Scud East expired in his arms on a barge at Cawnpore ghat ? Careful Flashy, who knows where this could end.
He also manages to lose his heart to the enchanting Rani of Jhansi who is central to this whole tale. She is the reason he goes to India, and she soon becomes the reason he wants to stay. Beautiful she may be and clever, but we never get to know just what makes her tick, despite Flashys best attentions. Was she an enthusiastic rebel or did she have little choice but to join in ? Who knows, but she made an impression on our 'hero' and that's for sure.
Baddies abound, most notably an old adversary from 'Flashman at the Charge', Count Nicholas Ignatieff. The Russian Count is probably the most worthy foe that our hero has encountered since Rudi von Starnberg, whose voice incidentally, acts as a spur to rouse Flashman from meeting a particularly gruesome end.
For every baddie however there is a hero, no not Flashman, but his 'protector' the Afghan, Iderim Khan. This unfortunate chap had the misfortune in the first Flashman novel, 'Flashman', to be sworn to protect Flashy. Taking up his promise in this novel he has a thankless task to protect our fraudulent Hector, but manages manfully until the deception at Cawnpore. In fairness to Flashy though, there are times in this novel when he gets dangerously close to being, well, a soldier. At Cawnpore he, wait for it.......fights !
Another worthy edition to the Flashman papers then, a little slow at first, but in time you will be enthralled as you are swept up in the whirlwind of another Flasy escapade in the 'Age of Empire'. MacDonald Fraser yet again seamlessly merges historical fact with fiction in a way in which we are simultaneously educated, entertained, shocked and amused. If you didn't know much about the Indian Mutiny before this book, you know most of it by the end. Get a dusty old textbook to fill in the gaps...if you must.
The end of the novel is very clever, as we find our hero both lauded and ridiculed, as he receives the 'spoils of war' but also a rude awakening in the shape of a nasty, indeed libellous piece of literature in which he features prominently.