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Tuesday, 22 February 2005
Flashman, Rated by me
Mood:  mischievious
Now Playing: GeekBlog Podcast, boardgame geek
Topic: Literary Survey

I'm an unabashed fan of George Macdonald Fraser's FLASHMAN series, covering the career of one Harry Paget Flashman, who existed in literature as the swaggering bully of the somewhat unreadable TOM BROWN'S SCHOOL DAYS. Fraser's conceit is to examine what the career of Flashman might have been like had he pursued a career in the Victorian Army of the late 19th Century. Need I point out that nice guys finish last in a Fraser novel?

Flashy rogers, romps, fights and runs away over the course of 11 novels (so far) and there's every sign that the series will continue, with FLASHMAN AT THE MARCH (the Abysinnian Campaign) coming out this Spring. I look forward with baited breath.

Even a bad Flashy novel is better than a lot of drek that gets published these days. Yet I still have my preferences, which I'll voice here (along with a survey of the series so far). The covers represent the BRITISH version of the Flashy books (and they are quite handsome indeed!). I'm using them since I found this HTML table ready-made by a British fan, why reinvent the wheel, after all? However, the words are my own. Note Bene, my "ratings" really are just and indication of what I call the best and worst of the series, and they are simply my own opinion. Your mileage might vary. If I don't say it's either a favorite or least favorite, that means that Fraser did a workmanlike job on it.

Flashman (Book 1)

1. Flashman

Flashman's Early life, Afghan uprising 1839-1842.

My third favorite, FLASHMAN is our introduction to the series and to Flashy's deplorable character. In a few short chapters, Flashy gets expelled from Rugby for drunkeness, rogers his father's mistress, joins the 11th Hussars, rogers a colleague's mistress, fights a rigged duel, and gets sent to India in time for the disasterous Kabul Expidition. I'm not even doing the story justice...

Royal Flash (Book 2)

2. Royal Flash

Lola Montez and Otto von Bismarck 1842-43; Schleswig-Holstein controversy 1847-48.

A retelling of the PRISONER OF ZENDA, perhaps my second least favorite Flashman novel. Still, it has some wonderful moments, as ALL Flashman stories tend to have. Lola Montez and her penchant for hairbrushes comes to mind. Royal Flash also is one of the VERY few (tsk tsk) novels in the series where Flashman stands and fights, albeit briefly.

Flash For Freedom! (Book 3)

3. Flash For Freedom!

American slave trade 1848-49.

Not in my top 3 but definitely in my top 5. Flashy again gets involved in a contremps over cards, loose women and cheating, and flees England for a while at the instigation of the villainous Morrison (his father in law).. on of all things, a slave trading ship! The best part of the book is toward the end, with Fraser's droll observations about Americans through the voice of Flashy. And Flashman gets to meet a very young Abe Lincoln at the end!

Flashman At The Charge (Book 4)

4. Flashman At The Charge

Crimean War (Charge of the Light Brigade), 1854; Central Asia, Battle at Fort Raim 1855.

My absolute favorite Flashman novel, due to it being chock-full of historical personages and events, and just the sprawling bigness of the thing.. A reluctant Flashy gets sent to Sevastapol, to take part in no less than The Thin Red Line, the Charge of the Heavy Brigade and the Charge of the Light Brigade. Natch, he also rogers lots of doxies along the way, and even has a drug-induced moment of heroism at the very end!

Flashman In The Great Game (Book 5)

5. Flashman In The Great Game

Sepoy Indian Mutiny 1856-58.

This, or Dragon, usually make my second favorite Flashman novel of all time. The great Indian mutiny of the late 50s.. Flashy poses as a native to avoid getting slaughtered.. and manages to roger the Rhani of Jhansi along the way.

Flashman's Lady (Book 6)

6. Flashman's Lady

Borneo Piracy, Madagascar 1842-45.

This one is down there at the bottom. I don't know why, it just comes off as filler for the rather uneventful years between 42 and 49 for some reason. Still, Flash manages to have his lady wife kidnapped, rescues her, becomes the consort to the Queen of Madagascar, meets Rajah Brooke, and manages to roger a terrified member of a hareem in the middle of a battle.

Flashman And The Redskins (Book 7)

7. Flashman And The Redskins

The 1849 Gold Rush 1849-50; Battle of Little Big Horn, 1876.

Probably my fourth favorite. Love the subject matter but I suspect it would be better served expanded into two standalone novels rather than one book made up of two half-novels. Still, there's a reason he does this and it's best that I don't reveal it here. Let's just say that the first part (the 49s) has a passage that, for me, represents the most despicable thing Flashy has ever done to a female, and part two (the Little Big Horn campaign) has all the chickens coming home to roost, as it were. Another great romp through American history..

Flashman And The Dragon (Book 8)

8. Flashman And The Dragon

Taiping Rebellion, 1860.

My second or third favorite, depending on how I feel that day and who's asking. I love Chinese history and especially the TaiPing rebellion (this book inspired me to find out more about Frederick T. Ward... read THE DEVIL SOLDIER sometime, it reads like an improbable adventure novel!). Flashman gets involved in the thick of things, desperately involved in A) dodging a clumsy blackmail scheme B) romancing a giant bandit queen and C) taking part in the Allied Punitive Expedition. Another rare moment where Flashy actually stands and fights, this time against none other than Sang-Kol-Insen himself!

Flashman And The Mountain of Light (Book 9)

9. Flashman And The Mountain of Light

Indian Punjab, Sikh Rebellion 1845-46.

Fun, but not in the upper pantheon. Another filler book for the late 1840s, this one focuses on the Sikh rebellion. Again Flashy rogers his way to greatness. More forgettable than some of them, as I am currently drawing a blank on the details. Perhaps it's time to re-read this one.

Flashman And The Angel of the Lord (Book 10)

10. Flashman And The Angel of the Lord

John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry 1858-59.

My fifth favorite, and a great improvement over Mountain of Light. Angel shows a much more humane and introspective Flashy.. he's absolutely mournful in his reminsciences here-- This is a very focused, tight story and of note due to the constant references to the giant gaping hole in the memoirs.. Flashman's experiences (on both sides) during the American Civil War (the book all Flashy fans want to see). Flashman's portrayal of John Brown is humane, charitable and even sympathetic.

Flashman And The Tiger (Book 11)

11. Flashman And The Tiger

Not a novel at all, but these three short stories:

'The Road To Charing Cross' - Congress of Berlin, Treaty of San Stefano, 1878; Bodyguard to the Emperor Franz Joseph, 1884. (largest and best of the lot)
'The Subtleties of Baccarat' - Tranby Croft scandal, 1890.
'Flashman And The Tiger' - Zulu Uprising, 1879, and Tiger Jack Moran, 1894.

My least favorite . The Congress of Berlin story is pretty good and would have made a great standalone novel. The Tiger story is okay-- most noticeable for the Sherlock Holmes reference than anything else. I really wish Fraser had taken time to write a novel length Zulu War book-- I would like to have seen Flashy at BOTH Isandlwanah AND Roarke's Drift. Sigh.

Posted by mrnizz at 12:00 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 24 February 2005 9:55 AM EST
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