Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Flash for Freedom by George Macdonald Fraser

(Book Review)

Having enjoyed the two previous Flashman books:

Flashman and
Royal Flash

I've moved onto the third book in the series.

As usual with these books, this one covers a lot of diverse historical ground: The 1848 Chartist demonstration, Disraeli, the African slave trade, King Ghezo and his amazon warriors, the underground railroad, and Abraham Lincoln himself.

But much of the book takes place in the good ol' United States itself.

For me, much of the appeal of the Flashman books is being able to learn about new places as Flashman's travels take him to the exotic ends of the Victorian empire.

To have most of the action take place in the United States made this book seem a little bit more ordinary. And at times the book was in danger of becoming just another historical novel about the underground railroad (albeit with the twist of Flashman being an anti-hero.)

What I found most interesting about this book was that it got into the the international politics of slave trading. It was legal to own slaves in America, but slave trading itself had been outlawed and was punishable by death. So when Flashman finds out he's on a slave trading vessel, he's horrified not for moral reasons, but because he's worried about being caught and hanged.

British and American navy ships both patrolled the African coast looking to catch slave ships. (The British navy even going so far as to attack and burn known slave trading outposts along the coast.) And if a vessel was captured even without slaves, it could still be condemned if it had slaving equipment (chains, et cetera) on it.
However the American government would not let any navy but its own search American ships, so the safest thing for the slavers to do was to fly an American flag, and just hope they don't run into American patrols.

All these points form an important part of the book's plot. As always, Fraser has put a lot of research into this book, and it shows.

That being said, the climax of the book itself did seem slightly too ridiculous to be believable, but I guess that's the kind of story these books are: mixing historical detail with an element of ridiculousness.

As always there are a few good laughs along the way. Disraeli is given a couple of brilliant dry lines in response to to one of Flashman's typical tactless comments.
And there's a very funny scene with Flashman and a runaway slave crossing the Ohio river. (A parody of "Uncle Tom's Cabin"--a book I, like most people, remember from high school.)

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky - BBC Radio 5 - 23 June 2010

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