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Flashman at the Charge (1973)

by George MacDonald Fraser

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Flashman Papers (7)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,0731914,132 (4.16)26
Coward, scoundrel, lover and cheat, but there is no better man to go into the jungle with. Join Flashman in his adventures as he survives fearful ordeals and outlandish perils across the four corners of the world. As the Light Brigade prepare to charge the Russian guns at Balaclava, Flashman assumes his characteristic battle position: sabre rattling, teeth chattering, bowels rumbling in terror and about to bolt.… (more)
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    Cardigan by Donald Serrell Thomas (Stepn)
    Stepn: Absorbing and amusing.

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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
The continuation of the Flashman cycle, with its meticulous research, and rollicking humour is welcome. Flashy in the bowels of the Black Sea, not having learned how to avoid actually appearing at the front, is in a paroxysm of terror. But Fraser has brought off a good picture of the whole disorganized disaster. Good fun, and the factual bits are solid. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jun 8, 2016 |
Here I was again, with my essentials trapped in the mangle, and devil a thing to do but grin and bear it." (pg. 288).

Flashman at the Charge, the fourth novel of the Flashman Papers, is perhaps the best in the series since the first, 1969's Flashman. This is in large part because, of the four books I have so far read, it is the one which is most similar to that uproariously entertaining debut.

As much as I loved Royal Flash and Flash for Freedom!, the second and third books respectively, I often thought our lovable old Flashy was not able to cut loose as much as he was in his romps through India and Afghanistan in the first book and now, one can add, through Central Asia in the fourth book. In the second and third books, he was often in thrall to one force or another (Bismarck and his minions in Royal Flash, the slavers in Flash for Freedom!) and had to keep his head down. Of course, Flashy needs no incentive to keep his head down, and both Flashman and Flashman at the Charge have him, at various points, in chains and/or at the mercy of some bloodthirsty savages or in some other sticky situation. But the essential quality is that in these latter two books I've mentioned, Flashman is trying to keep up appearances, rather than, as in the other two books, operating under a pseudonym.

You see, in the first book, the whole joke was that no matter how cowardly or selfish Flashman behaved, he always emerged to be (wrongly) thought of as a hero and upstanding gentleman. And it is this quality which Flashman at the Charge returns to, as we begin in 1854 with Flashman trying to avoid being posted to the Crimea, where war with Russia is about to break out. Flashman, because of his heroics in the first book, is seen by the British public and the establishment as 'the Hector of Afghanistan' (pg. 41), and Flash ruefully notes that "one of the difficulties of being a popular hero... is that it's difficult to wriggle out of sight when the bugle blows." (pg. 12). Consequently, he is bundled off to the Crimea (after an entertaining back-and-forth with his one-of-a-kind wife, Elspeth) and takes part (most reluctantly, fans of the Flashman Papers will no doubt understand) in the Battle of Balaclava. He is involved in the three most well-known engagements of this battle - the Thin Red Line, the Charge of the Heavy Brigade and the Charge of the Light Brigade - and comes through with 'new laurels', as he puts it on page 104, despite trying throughout to shamelessly wriggle, cheat and lie his way out of any sort of active participation.

It is here in the Crimea that the novel's strong historical authenticity and research (one of the Flashman Papers' most under-appreciated qualities) is most prevalent, and author George MacDonald Fraser, an avid historian, has a lot to say on the Crimean War and on the Battle of Balaclava - particularly that infamous engagement in Tennyson's 'valley of death'. He also, in footnote 41, has some rather interesting stuff to say about Russian imperialism and how, in contrast to 'the much-abused Western colonial powers', that country still holds an 'iron grip' on its colonies. Fraser was referring to the Cold War-era USSR but it is a salient point even today in 2014, 41 years after Fraser wrote it and 160 years after the story is set. As I write this, the wreckage of Flight MH17 is still strewn over the sunflower fields of the eastern Ukraine, an unfortunate consequence of Russia's attempts to strong-arm the Ukrainians in the Crimea. This is the immediacy of history which is not often understood by people who aren't quite as enamoured with the subject as I am: Fraser could draw parallels between events in his day and in Flashman's day, and I can draw parallels between their days and mine.

But, as Flashman himself suggests on page 60, the book is not about the war but about him; the Crimea is, "as far as my Russian adventure is concerned... really just an unpleasant prelude." (pg. 136). For you see, Flashman's acts at Balaclava lead him through Russia and Central Asia and, whilst I won't spoil any plot developments here, this is the most entertaining part of the novel. Flashman on the frontier, in the wild, engaging with tribes and trying to save his own sorry hide while ensuring others have theirs skinned: this is where the best qualities of the first Flashman were to be found, and Flashman at the Charge returns to this for another bountiful harvest. In the later chapters of Flashman at the Charge, old Flashy is at his most shameless yet, which of course is a riot to read. The whole bit with Valla in the sled is Flashman at his most knavish best (sleep tight, Valla!), and the bits where Flash deadpans that wolves don't eat bread (they don't even look at it, you know) and notes the use of a kitten as a pimp had me crying with laughter. It is always entertaining when you're with Flashman (just ask poor Willy, who got his arse painted black), and Flashman at the Charge has him at his shameless and roguish best. It is fully in keeping with Flash's earlier memoirs, "as fine a record of knavery, cowardice and fleeing for cover as you'll find outside the covers of Hansard." (pp11-12).

Put simply, if you've enjoyed the Flashman Papers so far, you'll love Flashman at the Charge. Flashy's shamelessness never ceases to astound and by the fourth book the Flashman universe has been developed to a sufficient extent to allow for knowing and winking references to previous books - yet another reward for readers who have already been amply rewarded for their time with another great read. And whilst by this point readers can discern certain elements of a story which Fraser always uses - a Flashman formula, if you will - there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with sticking to a formula if what you are making is pure gold.

"You may think it strange, knowing me, that even in the hellish mess I found myself, with the shadow of horrible death hanging over me, I could think ahead so clearly. Well, it wasn't that I'd grown any braver as I got older - the reverse, if anything - but I'd learned, since my early days, that there's no point in wasting your wits and digestion blubbering over evil luck and folly and lost opportunities. I'll admit, when I thought how close I'd been to winning clear, I could have torn my hair - but there it was. However fearful my present predicament, however horrid the odds and dangers ahead, they'd get no better with being fretted over. It ain't always easy, if your knees knock as hard as mine, but you must remember the golden rule: when the game's going against you, stay calm - and cheat." (pp232-3).

(Addendum:- I'm putting this here because I don't know where to fit it in the above review without disrupting the flow. I just want to point out that whilst Flashman is a shameless sexist and racist, Fraser's characters are not sexist or racist caricatures. His women and his non-white characters (and his white ones, for that matter) are all well-drawn, fully-realised characters. One passage which stood out for me was on pages 268-9, where Flashman suggests that three diverse characters he has met over the course of the book - a British cavalry officer, a Russian count and a Central Asian bandit/rebel - are very similar and "would have got on like a house on fire." I mention this because the Flashman books can be a hard sell sometimes because they occasionally seem to revel in the sexism and racism, and this was one of the things I felt uncomfortable about when reading the first Flashman book. The passage cited above shows that there's more to it than meets the eye. In Flashman's world, everyone's a bastard, regardless of sex or skin colour.)" ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
In the fourth installment the year is now 1854 and this time Flashy has been appointed as special guardian to Prince William of Celle during the Crimean War. His son, Harry Albert Victor (aka "Havvy") is five years old. I don't think I am giving anything away when I say Flashman is taken prisoner and makes an interesting deal with his captor. The outcome of that deal is not revealed in Flashman at the Charge. Maybe in the next installment?
George MacDonald Fraser calls himself the "editor" of this packet of papers and admits he only corrected spelling and added necessary footnotes (and there are a lot of them, as always). I have to admit, I'm still not used to the downright silliness of Fraser's writing. Case in point - in the heat of battle Flashman has gas, "I remember, my stomach was asserting itself again, and I rode yelling with panic and farting furiously at the same time" (p 105). What I liked the best about this set of papers is that there is someone who sees through Flashman's cowardice (finally!). ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jun 20, 2015 |
Our favorite coward Harry Flashman manages to survive the Charge of the Light Brigade, imprisonment, escape and several more battles to save the British Empire, all the while coming across as a hero despite his best efforts to be otherwise. Confirming, at last, that he is a cuckold, he doesn't neglect the ladies from England to Russia to Afghanistan. Don't ever go for a sleigh ride with him. ( )
  varielle | Feb 20, 2013 |
One of the best of the Flashman books. Flashman at the charge of te LIght Brigade and as a prisoner in Russia, undertaking to beget an heir for a tough old Russian lord on the latter's married but childless daughter. ( )
  antiquary | Feb 12, 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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For "Ekaterin",
rummy champion of Samarkand
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When the Flashman Papers, that vast personal memoir describing the adult career of the notorious bully of Tom Brown's Schooldays, came to light some years ago, it was at once evident that new and remarkable material was going to be added to Victorian history. 
The moment after Lew Nolan wheeled his horse away and disappeared over the edge of the escarpment with Raglan's message tucked away in his gauntlet, I knew I was for it.
You know, the advantage to being a wicked bastard is that everyone pesters the Lord on your behalf; if volume of prayers from my saintly enemies means anything, I'll be saved when the Archbishop of Canterbury is damned. It's a comforting thought.
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Coward, scoundrel, lover and cheat, but there is no better man to go into the jungle with. Join Flashman in his adventures as he survives fearful ordeals and outlandish perils across the four corners of the world. As the Light Brigade prepare to charge the Russian guns at Balaclava, Flashman assumes his characteristic battle position: sabre rattling, teeth chattering, bowels rumbling in terror and about to bolt.

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