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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Flashman on the March

George MacDonald Fraser

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To purchase Flashman on the March

Title: Flashman on the March
Author: George MacDonald Fraser
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005
Length: 315 pages
Availability: Flashman on the March - US
Flashman on the March - UK
Flashman on the March - Canada
  • from The Flashman Papers, 1867-8
  • "edited and arranged by George MacDonald Fraser"
  • This is the 12th installment of the Flashman Papers

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good fun, well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph A 9/4/2005 David Robson
New Statesman B 9/5/2005 Nick Greenslade
The New Yorker . 21/11/2005 John Updike
The Observer . 10/4/2005 Simon Beckett
Sunday Telegraph . 10/4/2005 Toby Clements
Sunday Times . 10/4/2005 Trevor Lewis
The Times A 26/3/2005 Keith Blackmore
TLS . 29/7/2005 Christopher Tayler
The Washington Post . 13/11/2005 Michael Dirda

  Review Consensus:

  Most enjoyd it, some very much

  From the Reviews:
  • "The 12th instalment of the "Flashman Papers" has been some time coming, but fans of this delightful series can rest assured: the writing is as sharp as ever, the descriptions as vivid, the dialogue as coruscating. (...) Every chapter brings exotic new adventures, all described in the same sardonic, throw-away style. It is beautifully done." - David Robson, Daily Telegraph

  • "Fraser is still adept at exploiting the potential of the first-person narrative, revelling in the gulf between the public perception of Flashy's honour and his innate dishonesty. Yet he also deploys Flashman's candour to debunk the noble rhetoric of Victorian England. (...) The most serious shortcoming of this instalment is that Fraser sometimes appears to be on autopilot" - Nick Greenslade, New Statesman

  • "Flashman on the March (...) finds both the author and the hero in dauntless fettle, the former as keen to invent perils and seducible women as the latter is, respectively, to survive and to seduce them. (...) (A) postmodern penny dreadful, which, along with its heroís hairbreadth escapes and blithe lechery, treats us to a piece of history that once made headlines as gripping and agitating as todayís." - John Updike, The New Yorker

  • "It's familiar territory, but that's not a criticism. There's nothing tired or formulaic about it. One of the strengths -- and pleasures -- of the Flashman series is the way MacDonald Fraser deals with his historical subject matter. The books aren't just cracking adventures and bitingly funny (if you like your humour politically incorrect). They're thoroughly researched and richly detailed, written by an author who knows his stuff and how to turn it into a good yarn to boot. Happily, Flashman on the March is no exception." - Simon Beckett, The Observer

  • "Flashman on the March is a skilful blend of character, historical research and some fine, oblique jokes. (...) What makes this novel less gripping than it could be, although no doubt more historically accurate than, say, Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels, or even Allan Mallinson's work, is that Flashy is simply not bad enough. (...) The humour and real fun of the book lie in the footnotes." - Toby Clements, Sunday Telegraph

  • "MacDonald Fraserís rollicking, roistering novel is not so much a march as a full-blooded charge, fortified by the usual lashings of salty sex, meticulously choreographed battle scenes and hilariously spineless acts of self-preservation by the eponymous bounder. As you are whisked at an unflagging clip from one comical coupling (...) to the next life-threatening scrape, it feels like being in the company of an old friend -- albeit one who is likely to roger your wife, seduce your daughter, snaffle your finest cigars and polish off your best brandy." - Trevor Lewis, Sunday Times

  • "(R)ecently, Flashman even seemed to be losing his edge, becoming almost honourable as the later episodes were presented. All that is put right in Flashman on the March. He is back to his worst and his best. This is the most enjoyable instalment in the series since Flashman and the Redskins (which appeared in 1983)." - Keith Blackmore, The Times

  • "The usual vivid local colour, hairbreadth escapes, rogerings and acts of cowardly villainy are all heaved into place, but this time Fraser's quarrels with "revisionist historians" drift up from the footnotes into the text more frequently than ever before. (...) Is it possible to enjoy the Flashman books without being at some level an overgrown (public) schoolboy ? Probably not, and only serious fans will feel obliged to pick up episode twelve -- though Fraser still writes well, and, characteristically, portrays the Ethiopian leader as an oddly tragic figure before going on to abominate him in the historical notes." - Christopher Tayler, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Though Flashman on the March can and should be appreciated by almost anyone, its bouts of retrospection usefully serve as either reminders or tantalizing advertisements for all that has come before." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Needing to escape from Trieste posthaste, Flashman accepts what seems like a fairly simple errand on behalf of the British government: to transport some silver to Abyssinia to help pay for a military campaign there. Getting the money there is (fairly) easy enough, but, of course, once there Flashman finds himself taking part in what is unfolding there -- "the strangest campaign in the whole history of British arms". Yes, he finds:

     Once again I was hoist with my undeserved reputation for derring-do, my fraudulent record of desperate service, and once again I couldn't refuse
       The Flashman-books are based -- closely and, with the exception of Flashman's role, remarkably accurately -- on actual history, and the events described here are no exception. Flashman on the March tells of the ambitious, incredibly costly, and ultimately fairly easily won campaign led by Robert Napier in the late 1860s. It was an unusual campaign also insofar as it was not one whose ambitions were conquest or replacing the local government with a more Anglo-friendly one. Instead, practically its sole objective was to free a handful of English hostages from the local despot, the truly nutty Negus Toowodoros, King (or Emperor) Theodore II of Abyssinia.
       Flashman's your man, everybody thinks, and much to his regret he's entirely suitable for the task demanded of him. Disguised as a Hindu horse-trade he's to convince the local "bloodthirsty slave-traders", and specifically Queen Masteeat, to rise up against Theodore. To do so, he must venture into the most hostile of territories, where pretty much everyone would be unfriendly.
       Fortunately, he has a guide, Uliba-Wark -- yes, a woman, and, as so often happens to Flashman, one with her own schemes and motives -- and quite the cruel streak. She's also quite a bit to handle, but Flashman pretty much always does all right with the ladies (though not always entirely on his terms).
       The Abyssinia of the time makes for a great backdrop for Flashman's adventures. These were areas rarely or never seen by Europeans, with ruthless and extremely hostile groups all about. Among the places they travel through is the great city of Gondar, recently reduced to a ghost town by Theodore, a place where "you find yourself contemplating Hell on earth". Spectacular scenery contrasts with constant danger, and Flashman of course also finds himself drawn into the middle of some provincial disputes (Uliba-Wark's other suitors being one of his numerous problems).
       Sex, near-death experiences, many touches of the very exotic and bizarre: it's good adventure all along. And Flashman eventually gets up close and personal with Theodore, too, finding himself at the Emperor's side as the British attack comes.
       It's all cleverly and well done, with footnotes filling in more of the detail (there are several eyewitness accounts of the events). It's good entertainment, and a neat reminder of yet another bit of forgotten history.
       And, in 2005, it's hard also not to read it as a commentary on the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq: Theodore is a Saddam-like figure, similarly ruthless and ridiculous, Gondar an example of pointlessly brutal mass-murder and repression (as Saddam also practised on occasion). Like contemporary Iraq, Abyssinia did not consist of one, unified people, but rather many groups and factions opposed to one another. The removal of the tyrant was the goal of the exercise -- but with no plans for interfering afterwards (the one aspect which is in stark contrast to the American-ordered British approach in Iraq).
       Fraser's remarks in an introductory Explanatory Note refer solely to Napier's campaign, but he writes pointedly that:
Flashman's story is about a British army sent out in a good and honest cause by a government who knew what honour meant. (...) It went with the doubt that it was right. It served no politician's vanity or interest. It went without messianic rhetoric. There were no false excuses, no deceits, no cover-ups or lies, just a decent resolve to do a government's first duty: to protect its people, whatever the cost. To quote Flashman again, those were the days.
       An enjoyable adventure romp, like all the Flashman-books, and one that has a bit more resonance in these times. Recommended.

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Flashman on the March: Reviews: George MacDonald Fraser: Other Flashman books under review: Other books by George MacDonald Fraser under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author George MacDonald Fraser was born in 1925. He is most famous for the books in the Flashman series, but has also written numerous other works of fiction and non-fiction.

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© 2005-2009 the complete review

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