Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser

(Book Review)

Having enjoyed the first book in the "Flashman" series (see previous post) I've decided to move onto the second.

My British friend who originally recommended the series to me did warn that: "because all the books have the same structure (Flashman performs several feats of cowardice and villainy, and then somehow gets recognized as an honorable Victorian hero by the end) they do get pretty repetitive if you read them all together."

But so far I'm still having fun with them. They're light and easy enough to provide a touch of escapist reading while I slug my way through grad school, and yet they provide enough historical context to keep the history geek in me satisfied.

And actually, this book is considerably different than the one before it.

Whereas the previous book was heavily peppered with historical people and places, this book takes place in a fictional kingdom. The story is a parody of "The Prisoner of Zenda."

Up until now, I had never actually read "The Prisoner of Zenda." But since it's been on my reading list for a while now, I decided to use this book as an excuse to get it out of the library, and I read both books simultaneously. (Review of "The Prisoner of Zenda" coming soon--soonish--well, sooner or later anyway.)

And reading both books together, it was interesting to see all the little parallels and tributes to the original story that Fraser had put into "Royal Flash."

Also, because the original "Prisoner of Zenda" focuses on a Victorian sense of honor, duty, and heroism, it is particularly amusing to see Flashman (the antithesis of all these virtues) thrust into the same position, and watch how differently he reacts than the original hero.

But, as I said in the previous review, the humor is more in the plot structure and in the general tone of the book. I didn't have any big laugh moments reading the thing, but enjoyed the situation nonetheless.

Most of the story takes place in the fictional duchy of Strackenz. (According to wikipedia, thus making it the only Flashman story to take place in a fictitious location). However the beginning and the end of the novel place it in historical context.

The book takes place during the "Revolutions of 1848", however the actual revolutions themselves are only something mentioned in passing, and don't have too much of an impact on the story.

Karl Marx himself makes a brief appearance as a rabble rousing orator haranguing the crowds. (This portrayal somewhat jarred with the impression I had of Marx as a more academic philosopher. However as the author George MacDonald Fraser clearly knows his stuff--he's written a couple history books in addition to historical fiction--I'll have to trust his judgement.)

Richard Wagner also appears briefly.

But the big historical figures in this book are Otto Von Bismark, and Lola Montez.

I didn't learn much about Bismark that I didn't already know, but it was an interesting portrayal.

Lola Montez I knew a little about from Priscilla Robertson's "Revolutions of 1848", but Fraser, who clearly thinks she is one of the more fascinating historical figures, fleshes her out into a much more fascinating literary portrait.

I also learned a thing or two about the Schleswig-Holstein Question, something I had previously known nothing about, but now feel informed on thanks to this book.

Link of the Day
Chomsky interviewed on Channel 2 News in Israel

2 comments:

Flasheart said...

Fictional kingdom? No, it really did exist, and is STILL the northernmost of the sixteen states of Germany. Didn't you read Fraser's notes at the end?

Joel said...

I did read the notes at the end, but as this book review is almost 3 years old (and as I no longer have my copy with me) I am now just going on my rusty memory here. However a quick internet search does confirm that I was right in my original assertation: Strakenz is a fictional place.

Are you perhaps confusing this with Schleswig–Holstein? Schleswig–Holstein is indeed a real place, and if memory serves, it was featured in Fraser's endnotes. And although the historically real Schleswig–Holstein question does help to form the plot for this book, the duchy where it takes place in Strakenz is entirely fictional.