Few historical novels equal this one for sex, bravura, and wit. ‘I can look at the picture above my desk,’ Harry Flashman reflects, ‘and see a young officer who is tall, masterful, roughly handsome and a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward and, oh yes,’ (he gives his good-humoured chuckle), ‘a toady.’ Expelled from Rugby for drunkenness, he joins Lord Cardigan’s Hussars and at 19 quickly makes his name through courage and bribery. Forced to marry a beautiful blue-eyed maiden who has responded enthusiastically to his penchant for seduction, he welcomes the Hussars’ posting to Afghanistan. What follows is utterly gripping, especially because we know the author has done his research and the events are real. We have a vivid portrait of the Afghan (capable of friendship only as long as it is convenient); the gruesome deaths of captured British officers; the hideous revenge of a tribal chieftain’s wife whom Flashman has unwisely bedded. Unforgettable is the description of the British retreat from Kabul in winter, the army and its camp-followers, all doomed by the folly of its commander. Rupert Penry-Jones’s skill in bringing each individual to life makes the mounting suspense at times nearly unbearable.