Wednesday 30 March 2011

[Book Review] Flashman and the Redskins

Fellow writer Danny Hogan recommended that I read Flashman & The Redskins, and being on a real Old West kick at the moment, I decided that I would. Written in 1982 by George MacDonald Fraser, the novel comes as part of the Flashman papers, a fictional set of accounts that purport to be the memoris of the Flashman character that appears in the 1857 book, Tom Brown's Schooldays. In this particular volume, we see him in the American West - part one is set in 1849-50, which seems him trek from Louisiana to Santa Fe masquerading as the husband of a madam, while part two is set in 1875-76, which sees Flashman embroiled in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

It's an absolute humdinger of a novel. In part one alone, Flashman ends up leading a wagon train, falling in with scalp-hunters, marrying an Apache princess, befriending Geronimo, before crossing the States with the legendary frontiersman, Kit Carson. In part two, he acts as a translator and envoy at various meetings with the Sioux over the Black Hills, before ending up at the notorious battle. By the end of the book, he's in Deadwood, chatting merrily with Wild Bill Hickok. That's quite a lot to pack into one book!

While much of it veers close to implausibility, the amount of historical detail is incredible. The book also contains two appendices to explain particular instances in the book, as well as a wealth of foot notes to further expand some of Flashman's assertions, as well as to add background and context to his narrative. Flashman might be a lying, lecherous, philandering cad, but he's a damn fun one, and his conversational style makes it easy to zip through his adventures. The most amusing thing about him is that he frequently displays acts of bravery, yet hurries to explain that he's actually a coward, but simply appears brave - he's a real antihero who just doesn't want to admit he's not entirely bad!

It's a fun read, stuffed with historical detail, and it's a real disappointment when you reach the end and realise that's the end of his adventures in the Old West. Highly recommended.

Five blunt pencils out of five!


stu said...

Much of GMF's stuff is well worth reading. I particularly like his one off farce about Anglo-Scots relations in the Elizabethan period: the Reavers.

dan powell said...

I've been tempted to read one of these a fair few times over the years but never got round to it. Great review. Will definitely have to fill this gap in my reading CV.

Tony Noland said...

I've had the Flashman series recommended to me, but haven't tried them yet. Will have to do so.

The Rush Blog said...

I realize that many tend to compliment GMF for his historical accuracy, but I never understood why he allowed Flashman, Suzie and the other women travel via the Santa Fe Trail to Sacramento, CA. It would have been a more direct journey, if they had traveled via the Oregon Trail and later, the California Trail.

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