For Balladeer’s Blog’s Number One Harry Flashman Novel click HERE . For background info on George MacDonald Fraser’s infamous anti-hero Harry Paget Flashman you can also click that link.
Reaction to my list of The Top Five Harry Flashman Novels continues to come in, with readers wanting more Flashman reviews. Here’s my take on the novel which would have been in sixth place if I had done a list of my Top Six Harry Flashman Novels.
6. FLASHMAN AND THE MOUNTAIN OF LIGHT (1990)
Time Period: The First Sikh War (1845-1846)
The Flashman Papers jump around to different periods of Harry Flashman’s life and this novel details our main character’s adventures following the events in Flashman’s Lady, published in 1977. Flashman’s Lady came in 3rd place in my rankings.
NOTE: The Mountain of Light of the novel’s title refers to the Koh-I-Noor (“Mountain of Light”) Diamond, which at the time belonged to the rulers of the Punjab in India and which features prominently in the story.
Synopsis: Queen Victoria’s least trustworthy Cavalry Officer, Harry Paget Flashman, is once again in the thick of things. A series of false starts to an all-out war have set things dangerously on edge in the Punjab, with a potential bloodbath in the offing if one false move is made.
Harry being Harry, he STILL manages to find time for a brief fling with the wife of a fellow British Officer before getting thrust into the line of fire. And into the schemes and political machinations of the real-life Maharani Jeendan, her brother Jawaheer, the British East India Company and a fanatical military sect called the Khalsa.
At the center of this tangled web, lurking like a thing alive, is the Koh-I-Noor Diamond, the Mountain of Light itself, passing from hand to hand – and in some cases navel to navel – while being coveted by nearly every figure in our story. Figures which include two American mercenaries who partially inspired Kipling’s tale of The Man Who Would Be King.
The title and savage action of this Flashman novel certainly put one in mind of H. Rider Haggard’s writings but the story’s account of hedonism and political intrigues at the Punjab royal court in Lahore is more along the lines of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius.
The deliciously decadent Maharani Jeendan is our protagonist’s main bedmate in his latest sword and sex adventure, followed closely by Mangla, the Maharani’s beautiful, calculating slave who had – as history confirms – engineered events to secretly become one of the wealthiest women of the Punjab despite her condition of servitude.
And needless to say, though the roguish Harry Flashman would be happy to just hump and drink his way through the war, he once again has Pulp Hero greatness thrust upon him. He winds up struggling to survive assassination attempts, confrontations with rogue military elephants, Khalsa death-traps and red-hot torture beds, plus some of the bloodiest battles in one of the strangest wars of the British period in India.
How strange? So strange that, with Jeendan playing the British off against the coup-minded Khalsa and playing her Sikh subjects off against India’s Muslims, events come to so thoroughly ensnarl Flashman in danger from every side that – with no other way out – he finds himself contemplating the unthinkable: actually doing his duty.
Proving that Destiny still has a sense of humor, the British blackguard even finds himself juggling the fate of eight year old Dalip Singh, Jeendan’s son and heir to the throne. But which will our scurvy antihero be focused on – the child’s safety or the boy’s jewelry box in which rests the priceless Koh-I-Noor?
Fraser hasn’t lost his gift for wrapping up Harry’s stories with pivotal, cinematically unaffordable set pieces. Flashman and the Mountain of Light‘s climactic scene comes late in the Battle of Sobraon.
Flashy is in the thick of the action as the Sikhs’ pontoon bridge across the Sutlej River breaks apart during the fighting, sealing the fate of the Khalsa’s army. Even the jaded Harry is awestruck at the thousands of men drowning and being washed away by the abnormally strong current, their corpses lining the riverbank for miles. (The Sikhs lost at least 10,000 men in this battle.)
As all Flashman fans know, the real outcomes of these historical events were decided long ago, but the fun comes from the way in which the author George MacDonald Fraser cleverly slips Harry into the various footnotes regarding some of the world’s Great Names and Great Events.
The Flashman Papers are always presented as if they are the memoirs of the “real” Sir Harry Flashman, written in his jaded old age, while Fraser pretends to merely be editing the man’s papers.
Rather than just leap right into the events of the story, Flashman and the Mountain of Light sets the stage with a prologue. That prologue features the much older Sir Harry and his wife Elspeth visiting Queen Victoria during her Jubilee in 1887.
By then the Koh-I-Noor was part of the Crown Jewels and the sight of it sets Flashman’s mind wandering back to when he first laid eyes on the gem in 1845. This approach makes for a nice Two-Fer as we readers get treated to lots of historical detail about Jubileemania as a figurative appetizer before the Main Course of the First Sikh War.
Slightly less successful, in my opinion, was FATMOL‘s frequent experimenting with having our protagonist recounting conversations that he’s eavesdropping on rather than participating in. Fraser seems to be utilizing this as an attempted break from the first-person viewpoint of Flashman himself but to me it just interrupted the narrative flow.
That’s a tiny quibble, however, in such an enjoyable work which nicely balances swordfights and gunplay with sexual antics, historical intrigue and the inevitable large-scale battle scenes.
And, lest anyone think I’m easy to please when it comes to Flashman stories, once I get around to reviewing all of the books it will become clear what a low opinion I have of a few of them. +++
FOR HARRY FLASHMAN’S ENCOUNTERS WITH ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN THE NOVEL FLASH FOR FREEDOM CLICK HERE
FOR MY LOOK AT THE TOP SEVEN ROBERT LUDLUM NOVELS CLICK HERE
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