Harry Flashman: the unrepentant bully of Tom Brown’s schooldays, now with a Victoria Cross, has three main talents – horsemanship, facility with foreign languages and fornication. A reluctant military hero, Flashman plays a key part in most of the defining military campaigns of the 19th century, despite trying his utmost to escape them all.
Unfortunately in China in 1860 a lot of people were depending on Flashman: the English vicar’s daughter with her cargo of opium; Lord Elgin; the Emperor’s ravishing concubine; and Szu-Zhan, the female bandit colossus, as practised in the arts of love as in the art of war.
They were not to know that behind his Victoria Cross, Flashman was a base coward and charlatan. They took him at face value, and he took them for all he could, while China seethed through the bloodiest civil war in history, and the British and French armies hacked their way to the heart of the Forbidden City.