This is the eighth volume of the memoirs of Sir Harry Flashman, V.C., military hero and “self-confessed coward, libertine, and scoundrel.”
It is 1860, and, after seeing service in such diverse places as the Crimea, India, and the American frontier, Harry now appears in China. In Hong Kong, en route home to England, he decides to help a missionary by accompanying a cargo of drugs up the Pearl River for sale in Canton. His troubles begin when he discovers that the cargo is not opium but guns, destined for the insurgents in the Taiping Rebellion. Captured by the rebels, he finds himself in the midst of the plotting of the fanatics.
After a series of adventures with the rebels, he is sent as an emissary to the British, which in turn leads to intelligence work for Lord Elgin and his Peking Expedition. He is captured and tortured by the decadent Manchu imperialists, becomes the plaything of the future empress, and is present for the fall of Peking and the destruction of the Summer Palace.
Sir Harry--Flashy to his friends--is one of the most delightful cads imaginable. Full of charm and dash, he falls into the most improbable situations at breakneck speed but always manages to escape with his reputation intact or even enhanced.
The whole is wrapped up in a fine parody of scholarly style, complete with appendices and footnotes. Fraser bases his work on solid historical research and adds wit and cynicism through Flashy’s observations and comments on real events and people. Although this is the eighth in the Flashman series, it can easily be read independently; those previously unfamiliar with this Victorian rascal will probably want to search out the first seven volumes.