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George MacDonald Fraser

FLASHMAN ON THE MARCH


Book review by Anthony Campbell. Copyright © Anthony Campbell (2005).

This is the latest in the excellent Flashman Papers series, the twelfth. In this book we find our "hero" in Abyssinia. He goes there to bring a consignment of silver dollars to Robert Napier, the commander of the British military expedition in Abyssinia which has been sent to rescue some British prisoners in the hands of the half-mad Emperor Theodore.

Flashman hopes to go home after delivering his treasure chest to Napier, but instead he finds himself being sent by Napier on an appallingly dangerous journey to enlist the help of Queen Masteeat of the Wollo Gallas, a warlike tribe of remarkable ferocity. His guide is a Galla woman who combines amorousness with impressive fighting ability, so the journey, predictably, entails hair-raising adventures interspersed with idyllic interludes; it ends badly.

Flashman succeeds in enlisting the help of the Queen but is then captured by Theodore. The second part of the book deals with his complex relations with the Emperor and the final battle with the British and their allies. Theodore commits suicide. Remarkably, there were no casualties on the British side and not very many on the Abyssinian side; the captives were rescued unharmed. The campaign was therefore very successful, although it seems it need never have been fought since Theodore had only imprisoned the British emissaries because his letter to Queen Victoria had not been answered with the promptitude and courtesy he felt it merited.

Theodore's extraordinary character, a mixture of nobility and appalling savagery, comes across vividly here. It is based extensively on contemporary records, and the same is true of most of the other almost incredible events and personages in the book, including the description of Queen Masteeat and her court. As in all the Flashman novels, there are appendices and historical notes, which can be included without loss of verisimilitude because Fraser is purportedly editing Flashman's memoirs.

One is always afraid that, in a long series of books like this, there will be a flagging of energy or imagination as time goes by. I'm delighted to say there is no sign of it here. I, for one, hope that Flashman has much more to tell us still.

9 June 2005


%T Flashman on the March
%A Fraser, George MacDonald
%I HarperCollins
%C London
%D 2005
%G ISBN 0-00-719739-X
%P x + 317 pp
%K fiction

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