Flash for Freedom! by George MacDonald Fraser – Review [Lord of the Night]

I really liked that Flashman was not against slavery, most authors would have had him be an abolitionist to make him a nicer character, but that would be untrue to Flashman and so Fraser has him be as racist as most people were in that time. A bold move and one that I respect.

Lord of the Night reviews Flash for Freedom! by George MacDonald Fraser.

“Flashman in America with slavers, politicians, navy men and prostitutes. What could possibly go wrong? Yet another hit from MacDonald Fraser with history’s greatest cad.” – The Founding Fields

Flash for Freedom! is the start of the longest Flashman adventure in the series. Flashy’s american adventure takes two books to tell and spans 30 years, and it’s likely his most exciting adventure for being all about Flashman and his antics in peace time rather than in war. Flashman doesn’t need a war to get himself in trouble, as always all he needs is a beautiful woman willing to sleep with him and he’ll find his way towards facing death and dishonour yet again.

Harry Flashman the Hero of Afghanistan, is going into politics. After an unfortunate incident involving a game ofcards, a beautiful woman and Benjamin Disraeli, Flashman is forced to flee England until the heat dies down. Fortunately his ‘beloved’ father-in-law has gotten him a berth on a ship with the delightfully insane and latin-spouting Captain John Charity Spring. The only problem? It’s a slaver ship. Flashy’s problems are only beginning as he ventures into the heart of Africa, the mighty Mississipi river, and the south of America as he tries to keep his reputation intact, avoid the law enforcement of the yankees and find a way back home to England to throttle his father-in-law for getting him into this. One thing is certain, his political career is over.

The story that Flash for Freedom! begins is a brilliant one. Flashman’s time in America, while sadly not covering his most famous exploit there namely fighting on both sides in the Civil War, tells of his first trip to America and how he manages to land himself in the thick of it as usual. Fraser tells a great story without utilizing a war, rather he uses the politics of America and the vagaries of the slave trade at the time to give the book a rich historical background, to create conflicts for Flashman and to give a really good look at America in the 1800s prior to the Civil War. The African segment is also fascinating, and it most definitely informed me of a few facts about slavery that I did not know, and even the beginning of the story in England was amusing, just seeing Flashman trying to get himself into the House of Lords.

The characters this time around are once again excellent, but the standout is Captain John Charity Spring. The insane, pious, latin-quoting, slaver captain that Flashman is tricked into signing on with is one of the most memorable characters in the series despite being fictional, I just couldn’t predict what he would do next and I loved his antagonistic relationship with Flashman and that is he one of the few people who ever saw through Flashman’s lies. And of course Fraser brings us plenty of fascinating historical characters including King Gezo of the Dahomey, Benjamin Disraeli, Fanny Locke and the rather surprising Abraham Lincoln; each of these characters really stands out especially Lincoln, one particular scene with him had me on the edge of my seat.

I really liked that Flashman was not against slavery, most authors would have had him be an abolitionist to make him a nicer character, but that would be untrue to Flashman and so Fraser has him be as racist as most people were in that time. A bold move and one that I respect.

There isn’t a lot of action in the book as this is mostly an adventure story, rather than a war story. But there is one or two fight scenes, and one small battle, and all were written very well. The battle scene I really liked as it showed exactly why slavery wasn’t as I had pictured it and afterwards I mentally kicked myself for believing that slavery was as simple affair as I had believed. A quote by Flashman sums it up best, paraphrased, “If they didn’t want us there, we wouldn’t be there.” The battle scene shows that in no uncertain terms, and the scene is made all the more interesting by the knowledge that the enemy Flashman faces really did exist as the book shows them.

The pacing of the story is nicely done. The England section is over quickly enough and gets right into the meat of the story, Flashman’s journey to America and the first third of his exploits there take up the majority of the story and they flow very nicely. The history behind the story is fascinating, providing a good look into the twilight years of slavery in the U.S and the tensions between the North and the South that will erupt in the near future, all of course impeccably sourced and annotated. And as this novel contains a lot of latin, courtesy of John Charity Spring, the translations are nicely located at the bottom of the page and noted so that you can not only understand the latin, but maybe learn a little bit of it.

The ending is a quick one, and very amusing to see that Flashman has wormed his way out of some of his problems. But his time in America is far from over and he still has a long way to go before he can go home, and as usual the story ends with him making his plans and with a very very funny newspaper article that Flashman added when writing the memoir. I particularly enjoyed the promise of more that the ending gave, the first third of the story has ended but there’s still plenty more left to tell and that carries on into the next novel Flashman and the Redskins.

For a good story, an interesting cast of characters and a fascinating look at slavery in America I give Flash for Freedom! a score of 8.7/10. This is one of the least action-packed Flashmans but it’s also one of the most exciting as Flashman cavorts across America with nothing good in mind, and with the law hot on his heels, it’s always a good show to see him lie, cheat and plough for his life and good name.

That’s it for this review. Next is Flashman and the Redskins, until next time,


Lord of the Night

Lord of the Night is one of TFF’s original reviewers. He’s done quite a few for TFF and that number keeps expanding. You’ll enjoy his diverse mix of book reviews. Always a treat.