Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Flashman and the Mountain of Light - George MacDonald Fraser

1990; 365 pages.  New Author? : No.   Book #9 in the Flashman series (but #2 chronologically, as it is told as a flashback).  Genre : Historical Fiction.  Overall Rating : 6½*/10.

    The situation in India in 1845 is tense.  South of the Sutlej River is British territory, with a large army that is unfortunately all spread out.  North of the Sutlej is Punjab, the realm of the Sikhs.  They have a standing army of about 80,000; well-trained, itching to pick a fight with the British, and more than willing to kill their own rulers on the slightest whim.

    The British need to send a diplomat to Punjab, who must also be a spy.  That man must speak the local language, be brave and self-confident, and above all be ...um... expendable.  Who better to send than Flashman?

What's To Like...
Flashman and the Mountain of Light (which refers to the Koh-i-Noor diamond) chronicles the events of the First Anglo-Sikh War.  There is treachery and butchery; political subtlety and bloody battles.  George MacDonald Fraser is meticulous in his research and details.  Some of the events seemed hard to believe, but a check at Wikipedia confirmed them.  Flashman is still Flashman - bedding every woman he meets, running from every danger that arises, and somehow ending up looking like a hero.

    The sex scenes are fewer-and-farther-between than in the other Flashman book I've read (reviewed here), and that's a plus.  My biggest issue remains the same though - the prolific use of the N-word.  I recognize it was a commonly used-term 150 years ago, but it isn't today, and it wasn't when Fraser wrote this series.  A skilled writer could have worked around this offensive term.

Kewlest New Word...
Titivation : a small, enhancing alteration made to something, especially to make oneself more attractive.

   "They have lost the spirit," says one know-all.  "Afghanistan was the death of them."
    "Afghanistan is everyone's death," says another.  "Didn't my uncle die at Jallalabad, peace be on him?"
    "In the British war?"
    "Nay, he was cook to a horse caravan, and a bazaar woman gave him a loathsome disease.  He had ointments, from a hakim (chemist), to no avail, for his nose fell off and he died, raving.  My aunt blamed the ointments.  Who knows, with an Afghan hakim?"
    "That is how we should slay the British!" cackles an ancient.  "Send the Maharani to infect them!"  (pg. 156)

    When I think of the number of men - and women - who have taken me at face value, and formed a high opinion of my character and abilities, it makes me tremble for my country's future.  I mean, if they can't spot me as a wrong 'un, who can they spot?  Still, it's pleasant to be well thought of, and has made my fortune, at the expense of some hellish perils...  (pg. 326)

"Most inconsiderate of me, but all's ill that ends ill..."  (pg. 192)
    You will enjoy FatMoL if you are a history buff, and don't mind political incorrectness.   Flashman is a charming scoundrel, and he seems to have picked up a couple redeeming qualities since Book #1.  The humor is piquant and Flashman's self-deprecation makes him a fine anti-hero.

    OTOH, an obscure foreign war may not be of great interest to a lot of readers, and since the action doesn't get started until around page 115, it may be a chore to many to stick with this book.  Nonetheless, if you do, it redeems itself nicely, and I managed to make my peace with the occasional offensive passages and enjoy the story.  6½ Stars.

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