on 11 April 2005
Flashy has been around for nearly 40 years now, but with only a dozen packets of his memoirs released, new Flashman's are few and far between and as such there's immense excitement whenever Mr Fraser releases a new book.
While its fair to say that "Flashman on the March" is not up to the standard of some of the previous episodes, a book that only rates "average" in comparision to, say "Flash for Freedom" or "Flashman in the Great Game" still wipes away the competition. It follows directly on from Flashmans (still unwritten) Mexican & US Civil War misadventures. To escape (among others) Mexican revolutionaries & the French Foreign Legion Gendamerie Flashman passes himself off as the executed emperor Maximillian's best friend and escapes the America's on an Austrian warship. Unfortuanately there's a 16 year old Austrian princess on board whom Flashy "educates" prior to her wedding. This requires an even faster escape from Trieste pursued by the Austrian authorities.
"Escape" this time comes in the form of Rugby companion Speedicut who entrusts Flash with £500,000 in silver to fund General Napier's invasion of Abysinia. Napier, not believing his luck sends the "heroic" Flashy in disguise on a suicide mission into the heart of Africa with the predictable amount of genocidal African kings and equally murderous (but volumptious) women after him. What follows is typical Flashman.
As we've come to expect from George MacDonald Fraser, the historical research is second to none. What lets this books down is the obscurity of the Abysinia campaign of 1867, which was little more than a quick skirmish resulting in a handful of British casualties. Whereas the Crimean war featured in "Flashman at the charge" allowed Flashman to fight among the thin red line, the charge of the heavy brigade AND the charge of the light brigade all in one day, this particular campaign lacks these opportunities. The real strength of Flashman is his almost "Forest Gump" like ability to plausibly change the course of history. History has ignored the fate of the British in Abysinia.
This is vastly superior to the previous chapter in Flashman's memoirs (Flashman & the Tiger), however I'm still hopeful that two of his oft-refered to unwritten memoirs will be published soon, namely the full account of his civil war memoirs and a more detailed account of his actions in the Zulu wars. Both have far more potential than some of the recent releases.
on 9 August 2005
Flashman is back - as bawdy, bad and bloody as ever. What a relief compared to all the do-gooders like Harry Potter. Was pleased to see that Flashman doesn't defer to political correctness as he seemed to in one of the last ventures. The world was hardly open to multiculturalism back in Flashman's time and it would be a travesty to Flashman's excellent historical renderings to pretend it was.
I also prefer Flashman as a relatively young man like in this book - he's the bad guy we'd all like to be some days, while being able to feel superior to him on most occasions. And as a young man he does it better than the ageing Flashman of later years. Can't ask more from an antihero than that.
All the usual elements are here but still described in fresh and inviting terms - the women, the girls, more girls, the cowardice, the saving of ones own skin, the sacrifice of others before onseself ..
I'd like to see him kick General Sharpe's butt but I fear the timelines overlap. Sharpe is good, but Flashman is badder and better. Hurrah for Fraser, if other authors could have the same power in their youth as he does in his Indian Summer than the literary world would be quite a different beast. Let's have another verse of Drink, Puppy, Drink ..
It seems a long time now since I first read Flashman, but I'm still delighted whenever a new addition to the series appears even if I feel that the very best additions to the series are now in the past.
As observed by other reviewers, Flashman on the March is not the best Flashman book - but it is still head and shoulders above much of the competition on the market. George MacDonald Frasers' characterisation, humour, dialogue, and historical research remain in a class of their own and my feeling is that he is simply running out of potential high-adventure periods in the Victorian era in which to showcase them.
This is certainly the case with Flashman on the March. Based on General Bob Napiers Abyssinian campaign (which I had never ever heard of before but was apparently a major cause celebre in the day), Flashman finds himself (once again) fleeing from angry suitors into the arms of another deadly mission on behalf of Her Majesty's officers who believe his reputation.
The first half (or more) of the book is almost pure invention; a travelogue with Flashy and a buxon lady guide traversing southern Abyssinia on a secret mission and it is only the second half of the book (set in Mogdala during the last days of mad Emperor Theodore's reign) that the book really comes into it's own.
The tale cracks along at a fair old pace and there is no denying that Fraser remains an excellent storyteller who can engage the reader with history with little difficulty. However, to me there just felt to be something of the former Flashman greatness missing from this book. I can't put my finger on what (some reviewer I am) and anyway - since when has "Not as brilliant as the other books" been any sort of serious criticism?
Any new Flashman book is a rare treat to be savoured. I just hope we get the long-promised American Civil War memoirs next.
on 15 July 2005
I have just closed the covers on this, the latest (delightful) addition, from GMF in the Flashman Papers line-up and I have to say I think this is possibly the best yet (I say 'possibly' because I feel I may have to 're-visit' Royal Flash). Yet again, the formula - and that is what it is - of loveable rogue, exquisite writing, historic context, nail biting danger, mad monarchs, romance (admittedly Flashy stlye) and a sense of 'being there' secures GMF's position as one of the best.
I do hope there are more to come to fill in the 'gaps' in Flashy's past (US Civil War and French Foreign Legion spring to mind) but if not then this is a truly great way to finish. I can't help thinking that in the past two or even three books GMF has left little 'hooks' for, perhaps, someone else to pick up from (after all GMF picked up from Tom Browns School Days). Who knows. Either way this is a 'must read' and (in my opinion) easily one of GMF's finest.
Mr MacDonald Fraser, if you read this we would love to see another (not wishing to influence you but the US Civil War would be great).
The Flashman books are a strange mixture of adventure, history, and social commentary. The author has found a "voice" that allows him to comment on the ferment of the 19th century from a very different angle. Their true strength is that you can select some or all of the above as you read the novel. In this package of the Flashman Papers our anti-hero is involved in an exfiltration mission into Abyssinia to rescue prisoners held by the remarkable Emperor Theodore. The exotic nature of the land and its peoples is well exploited by Fraser; Churchill did much the same in his The River War.
Ex Africa semper aliquid novi
on 17 June 2005
The latest adventurer in the fascinating career of Victorian "hero", blackguard, and all-round character Sir Harry Flashman takes him into one of the lesser-known by-ways of empire, a British military expedition into Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia). Were it not for the fact that is in the history books, this expedition with its highly-professional British general, its mad Abyssinian emperor, and its brilliant success would all be a but far-fetched - and that's before the Flashman adventure comes in.
Sir Harry is on good form - getting dragooned into taking part when all he wants to do is get home and enjoy his money, position, and his wife Elspeth; having the usual encounters with exotic and lusty women and exotic and dangerous men; almost getting killed; doing his craven and unsuccessful best to avoid risk to himself; and coming out on top with his spurious reputation further enhanced.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for George McDonald Fraser. The author seems to be getting tired, and we have quite long passages where very little happens and what does is not very interesting. One can only wish that rather than dealing with this episode the author had given us something of the long-awaited (and loudly-demanded by the fans) account of Flashman's "service" (on both sides) in the American Civil War. We get a teaser here with a little back story of what he got up to in its aftermath but how long must we wait for the real thing?
Still it's a Flashman, and not really the worst, so three-and-a-half stars are in order.
on 20 April 2005
This book is a huge bonus - as a previous reviewer points out, Mr Fraser is into his 80s and I didn't expect to see another full-length Flashman. Required reading of course! This one is a bit of a cross between 'Mountain Of Light' and 'Tiger' - imperial expeditions into faraway territories, with Flashy in his secret agent in disguise role. Impeccably researched, and as usual, a history lesson which entertains. Every time I read one of these books, they make me want to get on a plane and go out there and see where it all happened. My favourite moment: the bit where Flash tries to boot his lover over a waterfall to save his own skin. He hasn't treated a gal that badly since he sold Cleonie to the Navaho in 'Redskins' - I thought he was going soft. So the question is, does GMF still have in him the one everyone awaits - the US Civil War!!!???
on 7 December 2006
I suppose it is obvious that I'm a big fan. I wouldn't give 5 stars to all the Flashman volumes, but this one deserves it - the story of Napier's expeditionary force in Abyssinia is so extraordinary, as the country of Abyssinia itself is, that I thoroughly enjoyed this. I accept that avid Flashman readers would recognise similar elements from previous volumes, but in my opinion that doesn't detract from the quality and sheer enjoyment of Flashman on the March.
Fraser depicts an intriguing country with people as vicious as they are beautiful. The notes he provides are comprehensive and very amusing at times, including plenty of fruity observations about Abyssinia. We have seen mad monarchs before, but they can never be boring with Flashman involved with them, copulating, drinking, fighting, being tortured, and running for his life. King Theodore is even more ghastly than Queen Ranavalona in Flashman's Lady, and his character even more inexplicable. I was shocked by the way he alternated between sincere affection and appalling violence. Queen Masteeat and her Gallas people (not to mention Masteeat's sister Uliba Wark!) are just as interesting - Flashman's observations and first-hand experience left me in awe.
Then there's Napier's campaign to subdue Theodore and free the European hostages, which unbelievably goes like clockwork with very few casualties thanks to the utter professionalism of the expeditionary force, which Theodore hadn't counted on. Fraser points out at the end that Napier and the British army, and by extension any invading Western army, were damned if they did and damned if they didn't - they would have been branded imperialists if they had stayed to govern the country, or blamed for deserting a country in need if they left. Flashy tells Napier at the end that the British goverment could have avoided the whole saga if they had afforded Theodore the respect that a king deserves, simply by responding to his letters. How apt.
This is a superb Flashman story - it has all the exotica so lacking in his US adventures, in my opinion, and a lesson for arrogant, powerful imperialists everywhere. Great stuff.
on 19 December 2006
For anybody wanting three things in one - a fast-paced and exciting novel, a fairly learned history book and a well-written piece of literature - you don't need to look much further than Flashman.
This twelth addition to the Flashman Papers - in order of publication if not chronology - sets sail in fabulous form, with greed, lust, derring-do rescues, beautiful maidens and rotten Europeans all adding to the mix, before the adventure really gets going. We know we're onto a good thing from page one!
While no later part of a set of novels is ever a good place to start reading the series, don't think that you have to have read all previous instalments to be able to understand this one. All you need to know is that Flashman, the protagonist, is a liar, a coward, a serial fornicator and a cheat, motivated by greed, sex, a fear of losing his (unearned) reputation as a Victorian hero, and bare-knuckle survival. Oh, and sex.
This novel is as good as most, and better than many. It falls something short of the classic books "Flashman", "Flashman At The Charge", "Flashman In The Great Game" and "Royal Flash" but the editor of the papers, George MacDonald Fraser, has given us something that stands well above "...Dragon", "...Mountain Of Light", "...Lady" and others. Flashman's hilarious acts of self-preservation, occasionally getting him into more trouble than he started in, are best described as a cross between twisted genius and blubbering spinelessness. His outrageous treatment of his travelling companion, at one crucial and hair-raising moment in the story, was as dazzlingly wicked as anything he's ever stooped to before, and had me wide-eyed in shock and laughing out loud at the same moment.
There isn't much of the whistful sentimentality in this book that has crept into the previous few volumes either - the narrative has had much of the stoical philosophy peeled away to let the razor-sharp wit and sardonic humour shine through beautifully. Plus, of course, it's nice to see 'Flash Harry' back strapped to a murderously inventive torture device once every so often. It's even better to laugh yourself silly at his gutless attempts to plead his way to safety.
It needn't really be said that this is a must for fans. The real question is whether it would stand alone as a novel in its own right, attracting readers who had never come accross Flashy before... or whether it even needs to. George MacDonand Fraser has given us doses of Flashman for decades now, and it could be argued that as long as the fans are happy that's all that matters; but I started reading the books after seeing the film "Royal Flash" (a very different style of humour from the book, in case you haven't had the opportunity to compare the two), and would hate to think there are people out there who would be put off by "March" simply because it was aimed at an established and in-the-know readership.
To a certain extent, this book relies on a readership that doesn't need to be seduced, but the more satisfying news for me is that even if they did need it, they probably would be. In many ways, that says more about the quality of the book than anything that trumpets loudly: "He's Back!"
on 17 June 2004
To help other fans desperate for details, I contacted Harper Collins and this is the only information available at present:
Harry Flashman - gentleman, soldier, duellist, lover, imposter, coward, cad and hero - returns in a triumphant new book, Flashman on the March.
Harper Collins are delighted to announce the publication of a brand new novel in George MacDonald Fraser's bestselling Flashman series. Publication in April 2005 will see Flashman on the March in Abyssinia in 1868.
No further information is available at the moment but check back with us in 2005 for more details!
Hope this is useful.