Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Flashman in the Great Game - Chapter 1

Before talking about the opening chapter of Flashman in the Great Game I feel it’s necessary to discuss George MacDonald Fraser’s introduction. There’s the usual comments about the packet and the period it covers, but also indications that by now the series and the character was gaining a following. Some eagle eyed readers had contacted the author to point out some historical inaccuracies, which Fraser attributed to Flashman’s advanced age and memory playing him false. Still other readers had provided accounts of adventures that Fraser had either not thought of or not covered to that point. I’m still not sure if he already had everything mapped out or whether he made some of it up as he went along.

Flashman begins this reminiscence by talking about Balmoral, his regular visits there, his fractured relationship with King Edward VII and the first allusion to the Tranby-Croft affair (it’s covered in detail in Flashman and the Tiger). He also remembers the first time he and Elspeth were invited to the royal holiday home and how it resulted in one of his most deadly ever missions. For once he claims this one wasn’t entirely his fault, he lays the blame for that squarely at the feet of Lord Palmerston, who was the Prime Minister of Great Britain at the time.

It’s never made clear exactly why the Flashman’s were invited to Balmoral that first time, after all the most recent connection Harry had to the royal family was getting Queen Victoria’s cousin killed in action at the Crimea (poor Willy). This allows him to recap Flashman at the Charge and recount how he managed to put Lord Cardigan’s reputation in the toilet. Never ever get on the wrong side of Harry Flashman, he will repay you in kind.

Once Harry and Elspeth are there and have met the royal couple it turns out that Elspeth and Victoria are not all that different and get along like a house on fire. Elspeth has that ability, people like her and want to be with her, curiously enough they’re never jealous of her good looks either. Harry is left to hunting with the gung ho Albert, not an experience he enjoys overall, it doesn’t help that he can’t stand Albert at the best of times.

While enjoying the royal hospitality Harry is summoned to a meeting with the Prime Minister. He’s met by Pam, as Lord Palmerston was commonly referred to, and shown some chapattis. These ones are special, they’ve been used to pass messages, which is a common thing in India, but worryingly enough for the politicals in England, it generally only happens when there’s an uprising in the wind.

Things are dicey in Jhansi, the young female ruler doesn’t like the interference of the British, it’s Thug territory and the Russians have been agitating. They want Flashman to go there and get the lay of the land. Flashman doesn’t particularly want to get involved, but he can’t very well refuse and just to put the icing on the cake the Russian most involved with the agitating is Harry’s old sparring partner Count Ignatieff.  Flashman even ranks Ignatieff in such company as John Charity Spring, Otto von Bismarck and Rudi Starnberg, although he actually puts Ignatieff above the other four for sheer villainy.

Harry goes back to his lodgings with his head whirling and as he leaves the train station things get worse, because Ignatieff himself disembarks from the train and heads towards Balmoral!    

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