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At the dawn of a new century, the pioneers of Rhodesia have staked their claims and stocked their farms in the land they have carved as their own. But in the hills, the Matable indunas are preparing for the bloody rebellion which will scar the opponents for ever - and etch for them the same tragic legacy for generations to come ...
The third - and apparently final - installment in Smith's Rhodesia trilogy, following Flight of the Falcon and Men of Men; here the 19th-century Ballantyne saga reaches a bloody conclusion circa 1896, with an equally bloody 200-page 1977 epilogue also tacked on. The chief hero of the 1890s sequence is elephant-hunter Zouga's son Ralph, now a rich entrepreneur who's after more gold and coal - with opposition from greedy power-broker Cecil Rhodes: Ralph will steal Rhodes' top engineer Harry Mellow (soon husband of Ralph's sister-in-law Vicky); he'll get even more vengeful when he finally realizes (awfully slow on the uptake) that his handsome brother Jordan is more than just a private-secretary to Rhodes; and when Rhodes pressures Ralph into handling gun-transport in anticipation of the Boer War, Ralph betrays Rhodes - making a fortune in the process (by selling Rhodes-shares short). Meanwhile, however, more dangerous machinations are afoot: the conquered Matabeles, led by Ralph's blood-brother Bazo, are secretly planning a bloody uprising, based on magical signs - their angers fueled by a cattle plague (and the insensitive governorship of General Mungo St. John). So, while Ralph is off wheeling and dealing, his pregnant wife Cathy will be savagely murdered by the massacre-mad rebels; St. John will die colorfully too, though his estranged wife, missionary-doctor Robyn Ballantyne (Cathy's mother), will survive, thanks to a warning from Bazo's mother Juba. And, after Ralph takes grisly revenge on Bazo and finds new love with Cathy's sister, there'll be peace between the Matabeles and the English. The end? Not quite. Because Smith then jumps ahead to 1977 Rhodesia, with the focus on the great-grandsons of Ralph (who became So. Rhodesia's first PM, we're told) and his brother/enemy Bazo. One of Ralph's descendants is mild-mannered wildlife worker Craig Mellow. The other is swaggering Roland Ballantyne (son of Inn Smith's Agriculture Minister), who leads a 600-man security team in forays against the terrorists of the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army. And Bazo's great-grandson is Craig's friend Samson Kumalo, a quiet chap resistant to invitations from terroristically inclined friends. But when Samson's beloved Constance is killed by Roland's raiders, he becomes the fiercest of the rebels - subjecting Roland's bride Janine (whom Craig loves too) to gang-rape and joining in bloody battles. . . before the oddly upbeat ending: reconciliation between Samson (now a Zimbabwe Cabinet minister) and his old Anglo friends; love between widow Janine and Craig - who has written a family-history in-jokily titled Flight of the Falcon. Throughout, in fact, Smith's politics are curious and slippery - more having-it-both-ways than truly balanced. But, with lots of gory action and a minimum of exotica-and-passion, this is the most readable volume of the trilogy: lively, unpretentious, and pleasantly predictable. (Kirkus Reviews)
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