Book Review: Flashman and the Cobra

By Omar Ali 1 Comment

Flashman and the Cobra (Adventures of Thomas Flashman Book 2) by [Robert Brightwell]

I am a fan of the original Flashman books by George Macdonald Fraser and just happened to see that a new author is writing a series about Harry Flashman’s uncle Thomas Flashman, so I picked one up to check it out. The conceit is the same in this case: that these are the memoirs of a rogue who happens to have been around in the Napoleonic era. This allows George Brightwell (who is writing this series, the late George Macdonald Fraser having passed away) to write entertaining little books about various campaigns from that era. This particular book starts with Thomas Flashman getting caught in up in a sexual escapade in Napoleonic Paris (complete with a dinner with the first consul himself) that leads him to take up a secret mission to India, where the Wellesley brothers are getting ready for war with the Marathas (the second anglo-Maratha war).

The book is great fun to read and readers will get a flavor of the life and times and a detailed description of 2 major battles (Assaye and Argaon) and one siege (the siege of Gawilgarh). I certainly understand the battles and the siege better than I ever did before, but unfortunately Mr Brightwell is no George Macdonald Fraser, so the book tells us little about the overall war (why it was being fought, what else was going on; for example, Lord Lake was taking Delhi at the same time as these events, but you would not know it from this book). In the case of the Flashman books, you could pretty much get the story of an entire campaign (eg the Indian mutiny is covered really well in “Flashman and the Great Game”), at least from the British point of view. This is not the case with this book. Readers will learn relatively little about the overall picture here (unless they have read other books about the topic). Still, the book taught me more about the battles he does happen to get caught up in than any summary history is likely to teach.  I see that there are a couple of “Sharpe’s” books about the same war (Sharpe’s triumph and Sharpe’s fortress) and they likely cover the same battles in even greater detail, but I have not read them yet. If, like me, you have not read about these battles in any detail, then this is a good book to start. The book also introduced me to the begum of Samru, one of those extraordinary characters that inhabit India between the decline of the Mughals and the stabilization of British rule. Other notable characters who make an appearance in the book include James Skinner (the anglo-Indian adventurer who raised “Skinner’s horse”), but unfortunately none of the other Indian characters of the age get much coverage (or sympathy).

The books have the usual imperialist British rogue POV one expects from Flashman books and the author is clearly in awe of Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) and the fighting qualities of the Scottish Highlanders, but in both cases he has good reason to be a fan. The historical details are accurate as far as they go, but unfortunately lack the “big picture” view one gets in George Macdonald Fraser’s books even as he follows Harry Flashman from bedchamber to narrow (and implausible) escapes in various battles. Still, these books are very inexpensive on Kindle and audible.com and this one was certainly a fun read and very informative about the topics he does happen to cover. Worth a quick read.

By the way, the title has almost nothing to do with the book. The cobra shows up once and disappears without much ado.

 

1+