Fraser, George MacDonald. Flashman at the Charge.

NY: Knopf, 1973.

It’s 1854 and Harry Flashman has been loafing around town for the past couple of years, resting on his laurels, dining out on his experiences in Afghanistan, and generally enjoying himself. But war fever is sweeping Britain, the public is demanding immediate war against the Russians, and so Harry revives his captain’s commission and gets himself posted to Woolwich Arsenal — a nice, safe billet where his skin won’t be at risk.

But his fraudulent reputation catches him out and someone up the line of command recommends to Prince Albert that Flashy would be just the man to act as mentor/babysitter to a visiting young German prince who desires military experience. (At least he gets a promotion to colonel out of it.) And when Raglan and Cardigan (whom Flashman loathes, and with good reason) hare off to the Crimea without a single forethought between them, Flashman and his charge get dragged along. Before long — the German prince having been shot and killed within hours of their arrival in Russia — Flashman manages to be present at the successful defense by the “Thin Red Line,” the successful charge of Gen. Scarlett’s greatly outnumbered Heavy Brigade, and the disastrous charge of Cardigan’s Light Brigade — all on the same day. And then he gets himself captured and imprisoned on a Cossack commander’s rural estate, where he runs into Scud East from his Rugby days. And then things get interesting, when they overhear vital intelligence relating to the Russian invasion plans for India. Can they escape to carry the news back to the army in the Crimea? Can they escape the wolves in their snowbound flight by sleigh? And that doesn’t even include the latter section of the book in which Our Hero (the Rocket Man) acts heroically — but only as a result of being drugged. As always in this marvelously entertaining series, Fraser doesn’t really fictionalize anything except Flashman’s personal activities. All the history is quite real and is backed up with footnotes and appendices. Flash himself is an excellent and honest observer with no illusions about his own innate cowardice. In fact, he considers it a vital survival trait: “What security does a right-thinking coward have, if he loses his sense of panic?” One of the best in the series.

Published in: on 5 July 2011 at 9:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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