Tag Archives: Historical fiction

FLASHMAN NOVELS: SIXTH PLACE

Alan Bates -better Flashman than MalcolmFor 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.

Flashman and the Mountain of Light6. 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.

Flashman and the Mountain of Light 2Harry 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 real-life 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 real-life 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.

Jeendan and LalThe 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.     Continue reading

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FLASHMAN: LINKS TO MY TOP FIVE

Royal Flash posterWOW! Reaction to my Top Five Harry Flashman Novels blog post continues to amaze me! I’m always glad to share my odd enthusiasms with others so it’s been great to bring The Flashman Papers to the attention of new readers. Here in one convenient post are the links to my individual reviews of the Top Five and to my brief look at Flashman’s encounter with young Abraham Lincoln in Flash for Freedom

Flashman's Lady 25. FLASHMAN ON THE MARCH (2005) – Setting: Abyssinian Military Expedition of 1867-1868    CLICK HERE   

4. FLASHMAN AND THE DRAGON (1985) – Setting: Anglo-French Military Expedition to Peking in 1860    CLICK HERE 

3. FLASHMAN’S LADY (1977) – Setting: Campaign against the Borneo Pirates and captivity by Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar, 1844-1845    CLICK HERE 

2. FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME (1975) – Setting: The Great Mutiny in India, 1857-1858    CLICK HERE   

Flashman at the ChargeAND 1. FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE (1973) – Setting: The Crimean War, 1853-1856    CLICK HERE

*** FOR MY BRIEF TAKE ON HARRY FLASHMAN’S ENCOUNTERS WITH ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN FLASH FOR FREEDOM (1971) – CLICK HERE 

*** FOR MY LOOK AT THE TOP SEVEN ROBERT LUDLUM NOVELS CLICK HERE 

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TOP FIVE FLASHMAN NOVELS: NUMBER FOUR

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.

Flashman and the Dragon4. FLASHMAN AND THE DRAGON (1985)

Time Period: Anglo-French Military Expedition to Peking – 1860

This volume from Flashman’s memoirs is set in China immediately after his adventures in the Second Opium War. Unfortunately those adventures are among the Flashman Papers that we’ll never get to peruse, since George MacDonald Fraser didn’t get a chance to cover them before his death in 2008.

Even if his estate allows other authors to complete the various Flashman stories that were alluded to but never completed in Fraser’s lifetime it just won’t be the same.

Note: The “dragon” of the title refers to the general Victorian Age label for China in its exotic, mysterious entirety.

Favorite Book Blurb: “Long before Jack Sparrow buckled his first swash Harry Flashman was seducing, plundering and drinking his way around the world. This time out China’s genocidal Taiping Rebellion and the March to Peking serve as backdrops to Sir Harry’s usual pursuit of pleasure and treasure.” 

Synopsis: With the Second Opium War over, Harry Flashman is killing time as he awaits the ship that will take him home to England. A curvy, sultry blonde Missionary named Phoebe Carpenter uses her feminine charms to manipulate the ever-lustful Harry into running a shipload of opium to Hong Kong.

Flashman and the Dragon 2Or at least that’s what she TELLS him is being smuggled. It turns out instead to be an arms shipment for the Taipingi rebels who have split China into a blood-soaked Civil War for the past decade. Flashman doesn’t realize the true nature of the contraband he’s transporting until he’s forced to fight off a band of Macao pirates.

Thanks to some help from a sexy Chinese woman acting as a British agent our protagonist triumphs in the pirate attack. Unfortunately, when the British authorities subsequently board the vessel Harry is facing big trouble. For transporting weapons to belligerents in a war HMG has stayed out of he could be liable for years in prison.   Continue reading

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TOP FIVE FLASHMAN NOVELS: NUMBER THREE

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 the above link.

Flashman's Lady3. FLASHMAN’S LADY (1977)

Time Period: 1842-1845

The Flashman Papers jump around to various periods in Ol’ Flash Harry’s life. This particular novel covers our scurvy protagonist’s bed and battle adventures following his triumphant return from the First Afghan War all the way up to his pivotal role in a neglected Anglo-French action.

Along the way he clashes with London gangsters, battles Borneo Pirates and becomes a sex-slave/ military aide to an infamous African Queen. 

Favorite Book Blurb: “Harry Flashman, that swashbuckling gremlin in the works of 19th Century history, is back in an around-the- world adventure that would turn Queen Victoria pale with shock and James Bond green with envy!”

NOTE: This novel is called Flashman’s Lady not just because of his beautiful blonde wife Elspeth’s larger than usual role but because excerpts from her diary complement Flashman’s memoirs in this tale. As all Flashman fans know, Elspeth cheats on Harry just as much as he cheats on her but his ego inevitably prompts him to half-believe the outrageous excuses she uses to cover her affairs. She outdoes herself in this story.  

Flashman's Lady 2Synopsis: As the story begins Harry Flashman is still enjoying War Hero status and converting that fame into easier access to the bedrooms of various ladies. Presently the scoundrel finds himself pressed into playing on a Cricket team with some of his former classmates from Rugby School in Warwickshire.

Everyone tactfully avoids mentioning Flashman’s expulsion for drunken misconduct years earlier and he agrees. Always as physically strong as he is morally weak, Harry shines as his team’s Bowler (Pitcher for us Yanks) and leads them to victory. 

That kicks off a successful run for Flashman playing Bowler in a series of those quasi-official, no-American-who-has-ever-lived-can-understand Cricket matches like you find in Raffles stories. Harry being Harry he also begins making side money shaving points and throwing games in league with some London gangsters. Continue reading

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THE TOP FIVE HARRY FLASHMAN NOVELS: NUMBER ONE

Flashman cutGeorge MacDonald Fraser’s series of novels about his infamous anti-hero Harry Paget Flashman are thought-provoking, educational, thrilling and most especially – gloriously dark-humored.

Collectively referred to as The Flashman Papers, the books are DEFINITELY for adults only and not just because of the raucous sexual escapades of the main character. The historical and philosophical themes explored are not for the squeamish nor the simple-mindedly outraged.   

Fraser’s first Harry Flashman novel appeared in 1969, the same year as the American novel Little Big Man. The two books are similar in approach since they both depict a main character who gets caught up in a series of historical adventures involving Great Events and Great Figures with the events being looked at in a critical light and the figures largely lampooned.

FlashmanIn the case of Harry Flashman, however, the adventures are much more detailed because Fraser used an entire series of novels. (The 4th book in the series, not the 1st, is my Number One listing) Flashman himself is amoral, ruthless and driven largely by his lust for loot and sex.

And therein lies the genius of Fraser’s writing: the reader is permitted to feel THEIR OWN outrage over the atrocities depicted in the novels. There are no shrill lectures in the narrative, just an often bleak backdrop in which the misdeeds of history’s Great Names often make Harry Flashman’s mere monetary and carnal pursuits look almost noble by comparison.   

Flashman himself often brings to mind James Garner’s slick-talking gambler/ gunslinger Bret Maverick from 1950s television. Like Maverick, Harry Flashman proudly calls himself a coward who tries to avoid violence and thrives on trying to con or outsmart his adversaries rather than fight them. (But he often winds up having to fight them anyway.)

And like Maverick, the needs of adventure fiction eventually make the claims of cowardice wear thin because – no matter how reluctantly – both Harry and Bret always wind up in situations requiring conduct above and beyond the call. But when it comes to underhandedness “Ol’ Flash Harry” beats Maverick hands-down. Continue reading

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