Officers and blaggards : a dip into our historical fiction

You know how there are some authors that you know you’ll like, and have intended to read, but somehow have never found time for? This week I’ve finally caught up with two of these. They are both historical, military fiction.

Ramage by Dudley Pope is the first in a series, which in style is quite similar to Patrick O’Brian. The book itself makes reference to the similarity to C.S. Forester (who wrote the Hornblower series), but personally I think Ramage is more similar to later authors. Early Foresters are, as I recall, basically a set of short stories linked to create a novel-like book, that’s not quite a novel.

So, Ramage, in this book, is a Napoleonic naval lieutenant, who is forced into captaincy by the loss of more senior officers. If, like me, you’re a fan of the genre, you have seen this particular gambit over and over, but to be fair, Pope probably got there early, and others have followed on. The middle of the book establishes the corruption of the Navy, so that Ramage can be a maverick just by being a good officer, and then it winds up with a naval battle that’s quite original.

I enjoyed it. Less than my first Patrick O’Brian, more than my first Alexander Kent. About the same as my first Stockwin. I”d recommend it to others, not as a pinnacle of the genre, but as a solid effort that promises well for the rest of the series.

Flashman on the march is the most recent in a series about a self-confessed poltroon, bounder and coward who is an accidental hero of the British army in the Nineteenth Century. The scoundrel who is the main character destroys the usual narrative structure, because things can’t rise to a climax of increasing tension, to be sorted out by the hero at the climax. Instead, you’re challenged to work out how he’ll skulk away from trouble, or instead claim credit for things he had no hand in.

There are several humourous moments, particularly when Flashman succeeds in his aims by being more degenerate than I, the reader, assumed he would be. As a story though, I’m not sure it pays off reading as much as it could have. I think this may be because I’ve joined the series late.

I would however, recommend this series to readers who like an author to do his research, and show where it comes from without bogging down. After I read this book, I was over at Project Gutenberg and by chance found the journal of one of the real people used as a supporting character, detailing his captivity in Abyssinia. Isn’t that fantastic?