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Flashman in the Great Game by George…

Flashman in the Great Game (1975)

by George MacDonald Fraser

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Today - August 17th - is my birthday. And I'm sat here, having just finished Flashman in the Great Game, thinking that there's no better way to spend a day - any day, not just a birthday - than to spend it reading a Flashman novel. Adventure, action, laughs, pathos, emotion, twists and turns, good prose, excellent characterisation... just about every single thing that you can think of which contributes to creating a great novel and a great reading experience - well, the Flashman books all have them in spades. And I've been contemplating whether Great Game is in fact the best one I've read yet.

It's certainly up there with the first Flashman and the fourth, Flashman at the Charge (though Royal Flash and Flash for Freedom! are excellent too). But what is interesting (and unique, at least in the five books of the series I've read so far) is that Harry Flashman actually sometimes acts with compassion in Great Game, and even - whisper it - bravery. He confronts his dangerous missions with a peculiar sort of bloody-mindedness (even though he's quaking in his boots) and is clearly disturbed by a lot of the atrocities he witnesses. At one point (pg. 172), he even stops in his desperate flight from danger to try and help some beleaguered occupants of a bungalow. On a few rare occasions, he even betrays a sort of sentimentality that goes beyond the wistfulness of a nonagenarian Flash reminiscing about the old days. Witness, for example, the following beautiful piece of prose after Flash has been told of the Jokan Bagh massacre, purportedly ordered by Lakshmibai, an Indian queen he is besotted with:

... we sat our mounts under the trees, and the others fell in two by two behind us. In the distance, very black against the starlit purple of the night sky, was the outline of the Jhansi fortress with the glow of the city beneath it; Ilderim was staring towards it bright-eyed - I remember that moment so clearly, with the warm gloom and the smell of Indian earth and horse-flesh, the creak of leather and the soft stamping of the beasts. I was thinking of the horror that lay in the Jokan Bagh - and of that lovely girl, in her mirrored palace yonder with its swing and soft carpets and luxurious furniture, and trying to make myself believe that they belonged in the same world." (pg. 195)

That same Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, is also worth noting here. Flashy's adventures in the sack throughout the series are almost as thrilling as his other escapades, and at one point in Great Game (pg. 342) he estimates that he's slept with 478 women. But the Flashman series' female characters are never just brainless objects worthy only of a quick tumble (although Flash often treats them as such), and the enigmatic Lakshmibai is a great illustration of this. Flash is pulled every which way by her charms, and by the end even the reader doesn't know what's what with her. Ol' Flashy himself admits a genuine affection - even love - for her, though of course he does so in his own inimitable way:

"I did love her - pretty well, anyway, just then. Not as much as Elspeth [his wife], I dare say - although, mind you, put 'em together, side by side, both stripped down, and you'd think hard before putting England in to bat." (pg. 327)

None of this is to say that George MacDonald Fraser, the author, has betrayed the essence of Flash's character - i.e. the cowardice, lechery and roguery in which he indulges most often. Rather, Flashy has always been a very real and very human character who witnesses events and acts accordingly (usually to try and run away). And when Flashy is confronted with the appalling horror of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 - well, only a psychopath wouldn't let a bit of compassion and altruism sneak through. The Mutiny is one of the most horrifying events in British and Indian history, with appalling atrocities committed by the sepoy mutineers and, it must be said, ruthless reprisals by the British too. The Flashman series, as I've always asserted in my reviews of the other books, has always been great history, and the reader gets a real feel for the atmosphere that must have been present during that tumultuous time. And Fraser - through Flashman - addresses it with an even-hand. It says a lot that, after five books in the series, I'm still so impressed with Fraser's historical research.

All in all, I'm still undecided as to whether Flashman in the Great Game is the best in the Flashman series, but that's only because I'm loath to choose between them. It is just as flawlessly brilliant as the other volumes I've read so far, though I have to say that on balance, it probably is joint-top in my opinion with the first Flashman. As interesting historical fiction, the Indian Mutiny rivals the retreat from Kabul in the first book. As adventure, it probably surpasses it. And the women are just as memorable. Perhaps the only thing that keeps the first Flashman on top for me is that Flashy is more shameless in that first book. But people who are thinking about reading Great Game are probably already Flashman fans; to those people, I'd say that the fact I'm even putting this fifth book on the same footing is testament to how great the series continues to be." ( )
  MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
We have been following Harry Flashman through his adventures (the Afghanistan War, encounters with Count Bismarck and Lola Montes, the African slave trade and the Crimean War). This time the year is 1856 and he is caught up in the Great Indian Mutiny and this is, by far, his bloodiest adventure yet. Flashman has been chosen to be a secret agent to discover who is cooking up the rebellion. Thanks to his knowledge of various languages and his ability to blend in with the natives Flashy is able to discern the enemy is none other than his old nemesis, Count Nicholas Pavlevitch. Once again, coward Harry Flashman is in the thick of it, battling Russian spies, secret assassins, rampaging mutineers and Thugs. But, that doesn't mean he doesn't have time for a quick roll in the hay with prostitutes and even Lakshmaibai, the "Jezebel of Jhansi." Some things never change. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jul 12, 2015 |
This is the first Flashman book set in India after the debut, this time our antihero is sent on a fool's errand by Palmerston to investigate rumors of russkies spreading trouble in the colonies. The usual sequence of unwilling heroics follows.
Flashy is pretty much a straightforward hero in this one. Sure, it's all against his will, but nothing he does in this book contains any of the malice of some of his acts of the previous ones, he even displays true empathy at several points in the novel! ( )
  Matteocalosi | Jul 30, 2014 |
Another fun adventure with our favorite despicable Flashman. In this mash up of the late stages of the Raj, there are Russian villains with designs on India and Flashy's life as well as a fetching Rani with a fondness for swings. There are many first hand accounts of this period and Fraser weaves the facts into the narrative with his usual skill. Flashman goes under disguise for most of the book passing himself off as a Pathan soldier witnessing the Great Sepoy Mutiny and all it's bloody consequences. In spite of his cowardly heart, dear Harry shows some genuine compassion, sentimentality, wisdom, and dare I say it, bravery. Quite shocking, I know. ( )
  varielle | Apr 23, 2014 |
Just what I needed that summer, mindless fun. Who was it used to swear "By the Great Harry!' At any rate, just as much fun as "Kim", and a good deal less earnest. read twice so far. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Dec 8, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
George MacDonald Fraserprimary authorall editionscalculated
D'Achille, GinoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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One of the most encouraging things about editing the first four volumes of the Flashman Papers has been the generous response from readers and students of history in many parts of the world.
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Snatched by Lord Palmerston from the pleasures of Balmoral Castle and ordered to India, Harry Flashman rollicks and randies from revolt to massacre to siege to ordeals of the chamber, surrounded by the great Indian Mutiny of 1857.

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