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Lord of the Night reviews the epic Flashman at the Charge by George MacDonald Fraser.
“Simply the best Flashman yet!” – The Founding Fields
Flashman at the Charge is my favourite of the series, no question about it. This time Flashman finds himself in the Crimea War, and from start to finish the book is filled with the kind of laughs that only a Flashman novel can deliver, and the heartpounding action of this novel stands out amongst the entire series as Flashman takes part in one of the most famous actions ever undertaken by the British military, and as you can only wonder how the hell will he get out of this one??
After an unfortunate night in a brothel Flashman finds himself saddled with his latest unwelcome responsibility. A royal brat he must shepard through England’s latest conflict, the Crimea War against the diabolical Russians. But Flashy’s Crimea service quickly proves itself to be the most life-threatening of his entire career as the Light Brigade prepares to charge. From the bordellos of England to the torture dungeons of a sadistic Russian count, from the battlefields of Sevastopol to the dockyards of Khokand, and from the service of the crown to the far-eastern palace of a warlord and his bethrothed who are bent on freeing their country from imperial oppression at all costs. It’s just another campaign for Flashman.
The story that FatC tells is just a brilliant one. Flashy finds himself saddled with protecting a royal cousin and is quickly drawn into one of the most disastrous battles England ever undertook, and from then one the story just becomes even better if that were possible. The horrors of 19th century Russia and Flashy’s time amongst them is chilling for how accurate it is, and hilarious for how Flashman is asked to do in the service of a crazed cossack lord and his beautiful daughter, and the Khokand segment is fantastic for how action-packed it is, and how funny the ending was after we learn just how Flashy managed to survive Khokand. From start to finish the story is gripping and filled with interesting historical knowledge, and the laughs that only Flashman brings.
The characters are a very odd group this time around. Flashy’s british allies are standout among his previous commanders and fellow soldiers but the Russians and Asian characters are the absolute highlight of the novel. From the chillingly cruel Count Ignatieff, who is definitely one of my favourite characters of the entire series, to the infectiously-enthusiastic Yakub Beg, Flashy finds himself with no shortage of enemies who want him dead and allies who want him to risk his life and think he’ll be happy to do it. And this novel contains one of the most memorable of Flashy’s girls, one who struck me as the oddest of the legion of women who have fallen for Flashman’s roguish charms and the ol’ cavalry whiskers. Fraser brings both fascinating historical characters and amazing fictional characters to complement Flashman and keep him running for cover at every turn.
The action in FatC is some of the best in the entire series. It’s not even been a third of the novel when Flashman is called to take part in three very famous battle actions of the Crimea, one of which is one of the most disastrous actions Britain’s army ever undertook. And that isn’t even half of it, Flashy finds himself fighting cossacks in Russia and standing before an army at the gates of Khokand, and Fraser writes all of these sequences brilliantly. The Khokand battle is one of my favourites not only for what happened to Flashy during it, but for the tense atmosphere of the scene. This novel is definitely one of the standouts of the series action-wise, and contains multiple maps to help the reader understand the importance of several events that take place in the war.
The pacing of the series is nicely done. This novel probably contains the most travelling for Flashman in any one book, from Britain to Crimea to Russia to Khokand, and each of those segments is given appropriate length and time to really add to the story and each is great in it’s own way. The history is of course as accurate as ever, and shockingly so once you start to read the Russian segments and see just what Russia was like only 150 years ago, and as usual Fraser backs up his story with impeccable sources that only prove he isn’t exaggerating.
The ending is a very good one, wrapping up the novel and setting the stage for the next novel which picks up right after the end of Flashy’s Russian adventure. I particularly enjoyed how one character left Flashman, and the mention of his plans on how to return to England and ensure that he is covered in glory once more. It just wouldn’t be a Flashman novel if he wasn’t getting credit he doesn’t deserve for something that he only did reluctantly and with no other option.
For a great story, a stand-out cast of characters and possibly the best action scenes in the series I give Flashman at the Charge a score of 9.5/10. This is definitely my favourite of the series, and it was a delight on every page for the comedy, the action, the history which was fascinating and very shocking at times, and for the story that had me dying to know what happened next with every twist, especially the ones Flashman brought on himself.
That’s it for this review. Next is Flash for Freedom! Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!