Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review of Royal Flash by George Macdonald Fraser (1970, Knopf)

1842.  Still living in the reflected glory of his exploits in Afghanistan, Harry Flashman acts the man about town in London, when he runs into the beguiling charms of Mrs James and Otto Von Bismarck while fleeing from a raided gambling and whore house.  So starts a difficult relationship with both, especially when Flashman puts one over on each: first revealing the former to be the scandalous dancer, Lola Montez, then setting the latter up for a beating at the hands of prize fighter.  A few years later, Lola, has become Countess of Landsfeld and lover of Ludwig I, the Bavarian king.  When she summons Flashman to Munich, he sets off hoping that she’s forgiven him and they can renew their passion between the sheets.  Instead he is placed into the hands of Bismarck and forced into a plot to unite the German states into a single Germany.  He’s a very reluctant participant, but he can see no alternative but to muddle through with mock heroism.

The second set of Flashman papers picks up where the first ended, but after an initial setup jumps forward a few years.  As with the first tale, Macdonald Fraser inserts his intrepid, womanising, cowardly anti-hero into real world events in which he interacts with principal historical figures: in this case, the courtesan, Lola Montez, and the statesman, Otto Von Bismarck.  The twist in this book, however, is to also parody the novel, The Prisoner of Zelda, which Flashman then claims is based upon his exploits.  As with the first book, the whole affair is very well executed, aided by a strong, distinctive voice and attention to detail.  That said, the tale itself did not have quite the same verve as the first, and the use of a novel as the context rather than real historical events throughout meant it didn’t quite have the same resonance as Flashman recasting established history through his exploits.  Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable read.


Unknown said...

I've read another blog wherein the writer argued that some people prefer Patrick O'Brian's series (Aubrey/Maturin novels) over the Flashman series. Which do you think is better? (Note: I've read neither, but would like to choose wisely when beginning one or the other.)

Rob Kitchin said...

I'm afraid I've not read the Patrick O'Brian's series. My understanding though is that Flashman is more of a parody and inserts Flashman into lots of real world events in which he takes credit for all kinds of outcomes (think Forrest Gump). Whereas O'Brian's novels are more of a straight historical novels. I would read the first book of both series and then make a choice which to follow.