Eighth memoir to be opened in the packets left behind by Sir Harry Flashman, the ardently oversexed, deplorable fraud and sham who has just received an undeserved knighthood and Victoria Cross for his service in Crimea and Afghanistan ""by shirking, running, diving into cover, and shielding my quaking caracase behind better men. . ."" Now 37, Harry is a colonel and a favorite with Queen and Consort, well spoken of by his chiefs, and married to a beauteous and wealthy heiress. Serving in Hong Kong, Flashy's very hungry for his darling, whom he hasn't seen in over three years, and so buries his hunger in various ladies, beginning with a clergyman's wife, a blue-eyed, golden-haired, pouting thing ""shaped like an Indian nautchdancer."" Lately, she's been very upset. During an uneasy truce between Britain and China, the opium trade has been legalized, and her missionary husband has just bought 2,000 chests of the best prepared black smoke on the market--but if the war returns, he won't be able to sell his cargo and build a church. She offers Flashy 1600 quid (and a shivering hint of physical delights) to deliver her ton of opium up the Pearl River to Canton. Many miles upriver--a journey richly described--Flashy discovers he's running not opium but the very latest, highly contraband repeating carbines. Soon he finds himself posted to Lord Elgin's intelligence staff and dead center in the Taiping Rebellion (the bloodiest civil war in history, with 30 million dead) and part of Elgin's march on Peking. High point of his adventure is his 14-days captivity in the Summer Palace of Pekin, where he becomes the pet poodle and bedmate of Yehonala, the incomparable Yi Concubine known as The Orchid and soon to be Empress of China, a creature of all-consuming vanity and legendary cruelty. But the barbaric Elgin (who has already stripped Greece of its greatest marbles) has the freed Flashy burn the Summer Palace, China's greatest repository of culture, which takes a week of burning for its complete destruction. With its exotic landscapes and mores, this is among the most ingratiating and intriguing of the ever-spicy and adventure-laden Flashman series.