It's 1868 and Sir Harry Flashman, V.C., arch-cad, amorist, cold-headed soldier, and reluctant hero, is back!
Fleeing a chain of vengeful pursuers that includes Mexican bandits, the French Foreign Legion, and the relatives of an infatuated Austrian beauty, Flashy is desperate for somewhere to take cover. So desperate, in fact, that he embarks on a perilous secret intelligence-gathering mission to help free a group of Britons being held captive by a tyrannical Abyssinian king. That mission rapidly turns into one of the most famous expeditions in British military history, and along the way, of course, are nightmare castles, brigands, massacres, rebellions, orgies, and the loveliest and most lethal women in Africa-including a voluptuous African queen with a weakness for stalwart adventurers whom she nonetheless occasionally throws to her pet lions-who will test the limits of the great bounder's talents for knavery, amorous intrigue, and survival.
Flashman on the March-the twelfth book in George MacDonald Fraser's ever-beloved, always scandalous Flashman Papers series-is Flashman and Fraser at their best.
Last seen in Flashman and the Tiger (2000), that incomparable English rogue, Sir Harry Flashman, is up to his usual amatory and military hijinks in the 12th installment of Fraser's masterful Flashman papers. Having seduced a silly Austrian princess on the ship bearing the body of Maximilian, the ill-fated emperor of Mexico, back home to Trieste in 1867, Harry eludes the offended Austrian authorities by seizing the chance to become the British envoy on a mission to rescue a group of European hostages held by the mad Abyssinian king, Theodore. (When Whitehall neglected to respond to the polite letter Theodore wrote Queen Victoria, he took captive a few hundred unfortunate foreigners.) This now obscure expedition, which made headlines in its day, provides the kind of sardonic history lesson fans have come to relish. Allusions to adventures not yet published tantalize, notably those to do with Flashman's role in the U.S. Civil War. Fraser has nibbled at the edges (Flashy was there for John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in 1995's Flashman and the Angel of the Lord), and one can only hope that the next volume does more than simply mention such iconic names as Gettysburg.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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November 13, 2006
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Excerpt from Flashman on the March by George MacDonald
"In Maria Theresa dollars. Worth a hundred thou' in quids." He held up a gleaming coin, broad as a crown, with the old girl double-chinned on one side and the Austrian arms on t'other. "Dam' disinheritin' old bitch, what? Mind, they say she was a plum in her youth, blonde and buxom, just your sort, Flashy--"
"Ne'er mind my sort. The cash must reach this place in Africa within four weeks? And the chap who was to have escorted it is laid up in Venice with yellow jack?"
"Or the clap, or the sailor's itch, or heaven knows what." He spun the coin, grinning foxy-like. "You've changed your mind, haven't you? You're game to do it yourself! Good old Flash!"
"Don't rush your fences, Speed, my boy. When's it due to be shipped out?"
"Wednesday. Lloyd packet to Alexandria. But with Sturgess comin' all over yellow in Venice, that won't do, and there ain't another Alex boat for a fortnight--far too late, and the Embassy'll run my guts up the flagpole, as though 'twas my fault, confound 'em--"
"Aye, it's hell in the diplomatic. Well, tell you what, Speed--I'll ride guard on your dollars to Alex for you, but I ain't waiting till Wednesday. I want to be clear of this blasted town by dawn tomorrow, so you'd best drum up a steam-launch and crew, and get your precious treasure aboard tonight--where is it just now?"
"At the station, the Strada Ferrata--but dammit, Flash, a private charter'll cost the moon--"
"You've got Embassy dibs, haven't you? Then use 'em! The station ain't spitting distance from the Klutsch mole, and if you get a move on you can have the gelt loaded by midnight. Heavens, man, steam craft and spaghetti sailors are ten a penny in Trieste! If you're in such a sweat to get the dollars to Africa--"
"You may believe it! Let me see . . . quick run to Alex, then train to Cairo and on to Suez--no camel caravans across the desert these days, but you'll need to hire nigger porters--"
"For which you'll furnish me cash!"
He waved a hand. "Sturgess would've had to hire 'em, anyway. At Suez one of our Navy sloops'll take you down the Red Sea--there are shoals of 'em, chasin' the slavers, and I'll give you an Embassy order. They'll have you at Zoola--that's the port for Abyssinia--by the middle of February, and it can't take above a week to get the silver up-country to this place called Attegrat. That's where General Napier will be."
"Napier? Not Bob the Bughunter? What the blazes is he doing in Abyssinia? We haven't got a station there."
"We have by now, you may be sure!" He was laughing in disbelief. "D'you mean to tell me you haven't heard? Why, he's invadin' the place! With an army from India! The silver is to help fund his campaign, don't you see? Good God, Flashy, where have you been? Oh, I was forgettin'--Mexico. Dash it, don't they have newspapers there?"
"Hold up, can't you? Why is he invading?"
"To rescue the captives--our consul, envoys, missionaries! They're held prisoner by this mad cannibal king, and he's chainin' 'em, and floggin' 'em, and kickin' up no end of a row! Theodore, his name is--and you mean to say you've not heard of him? I'll be damned--why, there's been uproar in Parliament, our gracious Queen writin' letters, a penny or more on the income tax--it's true! Now d'you see why this silver must reach Napier double quick--if it don't, he'll be adrift in the middle of nowhere with not a penny to his name, and your old chum Speedicut will be a human sacrifice at the openin' of the new Foreign Office!"
"But why should Napier need Austrian silver? Hasn't he got any sterling?"
"Abyssinian niggers won't touch it, or anythin' except Maria Theresas. Purest silver, you see, and Napier must have it for food and forage when he marches up-country to fight his war."
"So it's a war-chest? You never said a dam' word about war last night."
"You never gave me a chance, did you? Soon as I told you I was in Dickie's meadow, with this damned fortune to be shipped and Sturgess in dock, what sympathy did dear old friend Flashy offer? The horse's laugh, and wished me joy! All for England, home, and the beauteous Elspeth, you were . . . and now," says he, with that old leery Speedicut look, "all of a sudden, you're in the dooce of a hurry to oblige . . . What's up, Flash?"
"Not a dam' thing. I'm sick of Trieste and want away, that's all!"
"And can't wait a day? You and Hookey Walker!"
"Now, see here, Speed, d'ye want me to shift your blasted bullion, or don't you? Well, I go tonight or not at all, and since this cash is so all-fired important to Napier, your Embassy funds can stand the row for my passage home, too, when the thing's done! Well, what d'ye say?"
"That something is up, no error!" His eyes widened. "I say, the Austrian traps ain't after you, are they--'cos if they were I daren't assist your flight, silver or no silver! Dash it, I'm a diplomat--"