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Royal Flash (Flashman) Paperback – March 1, 1985
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In Volume II of the Flashman Papers, Flashman tangles with femme fatale Lola Montez and the dastardly Otto Von Bismarck in a battle of wits which will decide the destiny of a continent. Did Flashman's adventures in the Duchy of Strackenz provide the inspiration for The Prisoner of Zenda? The similarities are certainly there as Flash Harry becomes embroiled in a desperate succession of escapes, disguises, amours and (when unavoidable) hand-to-hand combats in an epic adventure that takes him from the gaming-halls of London to the dungeons and throne-rooms of Europe. And for once Flashman's talents for deceit and treachery are matched by those of Otto von Bismarck and the beautiful but deadly Lola Montez.
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This installment picks up where the first volume left off; Harry returns from his Afghan adventures, quite the conquering hero and the toast of London. Soon, however, the bloom is off the rose and further adventures await, this time among the nobility of the continent. Soon, Flash matches wits with one of the greatest statesmen of the 19th century, Otto von Bismarck, and changes the course of European history as a result.
As in the original Flashman novel, our Harry is revealed as the premier coward and opportunist of his era; faults which he quite willingly admits and even boasts of. This passage, relating to his beautiful, vacuous wife Elspeth gives a glimpse into the Flashman psyche:
"At that moment I was overcome again with that yearning affection for her that I sometimes felt, in spite of her infidelities; I can't explain it, beyond saying that she must have had some magical quality, something to do with the childlike thoughtful look she wore, and the pure, helpless stupidity in her eyes. It is very difficult not to like a lovely idiot."
Uproariously funny and entertaining, this sequel is every bit the equal of the original.
Royal Flash starts where the first volume (Flashman) ended, with the narrator resting on his laurels from his campaigns in Afghanistan. Of course, readers of the first volume are well aware that his heroics are essentially pure fiction, but the British public of 1842 is not onto him. For around 70 pages, Harry is relishing his status while antagonizing various historical figures, most particular, a young Bismarck. This will come back to haunt him years later, when he receives a mysterious summons to come to Germany.
Harry smells a trap, but the scent of money is stronger, so he goes, only to be forced into a scheme of Bismarck's. As it turns out, Flashman is a virtual twin for Prince Carl Gustaf, who is soon to marry a princess that will solidify certain political alliances that Bismarck wants. Unfortunately, Gustaf has taken ill with a sexually transmitted disease and the cure will take too long; the wedding would be threatened and with it, Bismark's plans. Enter Flashman, who will impersonate Gustaf temporarily. Harry suspects there's more to this than what he's been told, but he has little choice to go along with the plot.
I enjoyed the first book in this series, but I like this one even more. The book Flashman is a bit more episodic, while Royal Flash has more of a single plot, allowing a better narrative flow. A wonderful blend of history and satire, Royal Flash will continue to entertain those who found the first book a pleasure.
But whatever, this is a great reactionary romp through revolutionary 1848 Europe, and Flashman has his way with the Queen of Bavaria and bests Bismarck at his Realpolitikin' to boot.
Great politically-incorrect fun and a parody of The Prisoner of Zenda too. Just love the character and the liberties Fraser takes with history and his refusal to take himself, the character or the genre too seriously.
So glad he wrote a dozen more.
If you are so much as considering RoyaL Flash, you should - you must - have read the first of the series, titled simply Flashman. If you haven't, I'll tell you only that Harry Flashman is the most cynical craven con-man to slither through historical fiction since the picaresque adventures of Lazarillo de Tormes. Wny it's almost plausible that such a scoundrel might have skulked in the crevices of history, playing a necessary but unrecorded role! And you may be sure that nearly all the historical allusions and settings of the Flashman books are quite authentic. In Royal Flash, our anti-hero's opponent is none other than Otto von Bismark; I'm dead certain that anyone who read RF before the age of 25 would never be able to conceptualize Bismark other than as portrayed by George MacDonald Fraser.
This second book of the Flashman Papers takes a good thirty pages to build up speed, but then it's.... one bloody narrow escape after another, as our Harry lucks out against the blondest blue-eyed beasts all Germany can muster, without ever being forced to act courageously.
Read it! You know you can't resist! If you've come this far, you're doomed to read them all.