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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The 'Wind' of War, 30 Aug. 2001
This review is from: Flashman at the Charge - Vol. IV (Paperback)
A hugely enjoyable read as we follow our 'hero' to the Crimea and Central Asia where he gets embroiled in all sorts of capers. Intent on one course of action, Flashy, as usual, ends up doing quite another and, as usual, comes up 'smelling of roses'
In places this is the best of the 'Flashman' novels I have read (I've currently read the first four). The first third of the book are excellent, detailing as it does Flashman's Crimean War memoirs, but the later sections detailing his
imprisonment in a Russian house, and later, his exploits as a member of a Central Asian tribe fighting Russian encroachment is somewhat less inspired.
The story briefly starts with our 'hero' preparing for war by trying to hide away in the Board of Ordance, but unfortunately for him he is made the guardian of a German Prince, Prince William of Celle, who is studying the art of soldiering, so off to the Crimea he must go.
Once in the Crimea, Flashy, who is employed as a 'galloper' (messenger) is witness to some of the great battles of British military history. He gets caught up in the Battle of the Alma, where unfortunately his charge, the hapless and randy William is killed. But what happens later firmly plants Flashy as one of the great warriors of the British Army; ever !
Whilst trying desperately to avoid any hint of danger, Flashy inadvertently finds himself, not only present at the Battle of Balaclava, but becoming an integral part of it. He becomes a member of the 'Thin Red Line', one of General Scarlett's Heavy Brigade, charging uphill into the Russian cavalry and later, most famously, as one of 'the six hundred' who charge the Russian guns at the North Valley, better known as the 'Valley of Death' in what passed into legend as, 'the Charge of the Light Brigade'.
This passage of events surpasses anything Flashy (or us) has encountered before in terms of action, drama and humour. MacDonald Fraser's attention to historical fact makes what happens to Flashy fit seamlessly into the true historical version of events. His role in the actual conveying of the fateful message from Lord Raglan to Lord Lucan (Flashy actually had an amendment to Lew Nolan's famous message), his giving Lord George Paget one of his cheroots for the Charge, as well as his unwilling stampede up the valley that momentarily saw him overtake Lord Cardigan in the Charge, all have the ring of truth about them.
As well as being immensely gripping and realistic (MacDonald Fraser's description of the carnage wrought on the Russian cavalry by Sir Colin Campbell's 93rd Highland Regiment is truly impressive) this section of the book is very funny (if war and battles can be funny). The way that Flashy is determined to avoid danger and the way that danger seeks him out is highly entertaining, but nothing can beat the running gag of Flashy's wind that plagues him at Balaclava and culminates in him letting rip as he thunders up the 'Valley of Death, "I dug in my heels, yelling nonsense and brandishing my sabre, shot into the smoke with one final rip from my bowels and a prayer...". Brilliant, you can almost smell the fear !
Taken prisoner following the Charge, the novel slows down in pace and excitement. Flashman is taken to a remote country house where he is a 'guest'of one Count Pencherjevsky, a Zaporozhiyan Cossack. Also being held is his old school 'mate', Scud East, and their contrast in attitudes to their imprisonment and their duty to escape are highly amusing. Flashman, as usual, manages to have some romantic diversions whilst being held prisoner and one encounter with 'Aunt Sara' in a Russian steam-bath with "..the damned serfs blotting everything out with steam again.." is how I want to go when my time comes.
Escape, capture and transportation in chains to the shores of the Aral Sea by the villainous Count Ignatieff follow for Flashy. The Count is planning an invasion of British India and thinks Flashy will be of use due to his previous experience of Afghanistan and all (see 'Flashman'). However another escape follows and Flashy finds himself unwittingly caught up in the struggles of a Khokandian leader called Yakub Beg, in what is now modern day Kazakhstan, to stop the Russians from conquering his country. I thoroughly recommend this book if you are looking for a highly entertaining and amusing read, as well as a lesson in the 'hidden history' of the mid-19th Century. Not as consistently entertaining as 'Flashman', 'Flashman at the Charge' nevertheless is another worthy installment of the adventures of the British army's most famous poltroon.
It contains all the usual ingredients of famous people (Flashy gets to meet amongst others, Prince Albert, Lord Palmerston, Lord Raglan, Lord Cardigan and William Howard Russell, as well as glimpsing Gladstone and even Tsar Nicholas I), sex (apart from squiring Elspeth our hero gets to mount two Russian ladies and a Chinese war-lords daughter) and classic quotes, like this one, as Flashy describes the much-maligned British Commander-in-Chief, Lord Raglan, "Oh, he was brave and determined and ready to take on all the odds - the worst kind of general imaginable. Give me a clever coward everytime".
However it is the character of Flashman himself who, predictably, dominates the book as this fraudulent, lecherous, ingratiating, quivering mass of wind and deceit again takes centre stage to regale us with his mis-adventures, all told with the brutal honesty of one who knows his and everyone elses limitations, even if no-one else does. Maybe that's why Flashman is so compelling. It is easy to despise him but look a little deeper, don't you recognise some of the traits ? You should do !
Foward all you followers of Colonel Flashman (he gets promoted don't you know), the fifth packet of the Flashman Papers awaits !
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Location: London, England

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