DEEP IN THE DEPTHS OF, UM, “READING ROUND THE SUBJECT”, I was suddenly left open-mouthed in surprise. Three-quarters of the way through FLASHMAN AND THE DRAGON (8th of the 11 Flashmans to date, but actually my 11th), I thought, hang on, I know these characters already. Flashman is a barbarian prisoner of the Chinese Emperor, trussed up and naked in a store room: here to peek at him is the gorgeous Concubine Yi (who actually really historically went on to rule all China for cruel decades) and her eunuch servant An. Well, for a half-dozen pages at least, this threesome is UNCANNILY SIMILAR (I mean like George MacDonald Frasier was ticking off paragraphs) to the early section in THE TOMBS OF ATUAN, where Ged is a barbarian prisoner of the Nameless Ones, trussed up and naked in a store room, and here to peek at him is the young priestess Ahra and her eunuch servant Manan. Coincidence? Sorry, but no. Hommage? Why on earth? Plagiarism? To what the hell purpose? Unconcious regurgitation of a book long-ago internalised (Tombs = 1971, Dragon = 1985): possibly, but some lines almost dare you to check the source. OK yes, Le Guin’s is a book for children, more or less, and appropriately chaste; Frasier’s is a book for adults, more or less, and the Concubine is naked and wicked and even hornier than Flashman: even so the echo – for a few pages – is genuinely disorientating. On this side: the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom as his realm was violently forced (by the Brits and by savage internal upheaval) to emerge from self-deluding myth into the modern world; on that: the Godkings of Kargad, shaken when their hollow, terrible mysteries are laid bare by the brave young Wizard of Earthsea. I’m not exactly sure where in the series GMF switched from being mainly anti-Empire – I’d need to read them in order – but by No.8 in the series, his deep-readerly unconscious is clearly gone pro.