Fraser, George MacDonald. Flashman on the March.

NY: Knopf, 2005.

Generally speaking, I have quite enjoyed the dozen or so volumes of “The Flashman Papers.” Now and then, the plot or the action falls down a bit but Fraser usually maintains control of his narrative overall and creates fascinating characters, most of them based on real people. So I don’t know what is about this volume but it didn’t do a thing for me.

Not that it’s a bad book. Just sort of “blech.” The subject is the British military expedition into Abyssinia in 1868 for the purpose of rescuing a few dozen Britons and other Europeans being held captive, and tortured, by Emperor Theodore II, a certifiable madmen (no matter what present-day Ethiopian apologists may say). Now, while I’m pretty widely read in 19th-century history, I confess I knew nothing whatever about this operation — which, as Sir Harry notes, is perhaps the only one ever undertaken by British arms, and at considerable expense, for the most humane motives and not simply to enlarge and enhance the Empire.

Perhaps the problem is that we’ve seen all this before. Because there’s a template that Fraser follows in many of the Flashman adventures:

1. Flashy arrives in a mysterious land, usually against his will.

2. Flashy is dragooned into acting as an undercover intelligence agent for the Crown.

3. Flashy narrates an interesting travelogue/anthropological survey.

4. Flashy seduces/is seduced by a beautiful and dangerous female of considerable personal and political power.

5. Flashy escapes from/bids farewell to said female.

6. Flashy is threatened/imprisoned/nearly tortured by the Powers That Be.

7. Flashy escapes by the skin of his teeth, fulfilling at least part of his mission in the process.

8. Flashy’s heroic resume is thereby enhanced.

I think that’s it in a nutshell. Perhaps I just need to lay off the Flashman books for a couple of years. I’ll think about returning to this one later. But I wish Fraser had gotten around to giving us the full lowdown on Our Hero’s time in the Foreign Legion and with Emperor Max in Mexico.


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