Famed British war hero and adventurer Harry Flashman looks back in a series of allegedly secret memoirs, in which he reveals the truth behind his legendary life: that he is a coward, a womanizer, and a scoundrel, whose reputation rests solely on luck, rather than merit. Expelled from boarding school for drunkenness, Harry goes home and promptly sleeps with his father's girlfriend. Shortly after, he decides to join a famed cavalry regiment in the British Army, thinking that since the regiment is made up of aristocrats' sons like himself, it will be an easy life.
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However, his affair with another officer's wife leads to a duel, which in turns leads to his assignment to Scotland. Once there, another affair, with a daughter of the family he is garrisoned with, ends in a shotgun marriage to Elspeth, a woman he has little interest in. The marriage ruins Harry's career in the cavalry, but he is reassigned to India.
There, he impresses his commanders by quickly learning the foreign languages used by the servants, and he is again reassigned -- to Afghanistan. On this assignment he witnesses the inept leaders of the British Colonial effort, and flees the area in time to avoid being killed during an uprising. Harry rejoins the troops who survived and retreated, somehow believed by the others to be a hero who fought off the Afghan warriors.
He is later captured by Gul Shah, an Afghan leader married to a woman named Narreeman, whom Harry had raped shortly after he arrived in Afghanistan. Gul Shah tortures Harry, who quivers in fear and cries for his life throughout the ordeal. He is finally rescued by his sergeant Hudson, only to have his reputation as a fearsome fighter increased.
He returns home a hero of sorts, only to find his life back in England changed. His father's wastrel ways left him nearly broke, until Elspeth's family bailed him out, meaning Harry's wife now controls the purse strings. Making matters worse, he notices Elspeth is better in bed, and begins to suspect she has been cheating on him while he was overseas. The novel ends with hints of Harry's further adventures to be outlined in the sequel.
Best part of story, including ending:
This novel is extremely amusing, though the humor wears thin after about a hundred pages. Harry is a sleazeball, the officers in the British Army are clueless bluebloods, and women are just sex objects. After a while it's hard to keep reading.
Best scene in story:
Harry's reputation is growing by the time he's captured by Gul Shah, so it's amusing when he practically squeals like a pig at the thought of the torture they have planned for him. He's crying like a baby before they even begin.
Opinion about the main character:
Harry is a terrible person who could be the kind of lovable jerk one encounters often in fiction, but his misogyny and borderline racism make that impossible, as does the fact that he does not have any redeeming characteristics. He's also a rapist.