by Maurice Shadbolt ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 26, 1987
For this frontier novel, veteran New Zealand writer Shadbolt delves into his country's history to spotlight an incident of colonial injustice toward native Maoris: an incident which begets a monster and a massacre. George Fairweather is a superb officer who quits the British Army when he tires of killing Maoris to appease bloodthirsty, land-grabbing colonists. In 1867, a bird of passage, he arrives in the lush agricultural settlement of Poverty Bay to sell his paintings and renew acquaintance with Meriana Smith, an attractive half-caste. Meri's welcome is offset by a thorny problem involving another acquaintance, Coates, an ebullient Maori trader. Tricked out of his livelihood by colonists and banished without trial, Coates has escaped captivity and is returning (with his fellow-prisoners) as Kooti, a self-styled Moses leading his Israelites to the promised land; a false prophet but a fine general, as he shows when he trounces the colonists in two skirmishes. Fairweather, urging negotiation, remains cool to the colonists; only when Kooti's army massacres the townspeople (including Maoris, women and children), and Kooti rapes Meri, does he change. Proclaiming Kooti a mad dog, and himself a servant of a malevolent world, he pursues him into the mountains; thanks to a ferocious Maori force (the traditional chiefs despise an upstart), Kooti is dislodged from his fortress, but eludes capture. In the final sequence (dripping with Dickensian sentimentality), the minor character of Hamiora is thrust center stage; this comical native (""Very bloody goodbye""), Kooti conscript and necessary scapegoat is tried and hung by the government. A mixed bag. The feats of derring-do are powerful stuff, but they are embedded in a work that is too long and too ostentatiously lapidary (old Shadbolt failings). But the novel's greatest weakness--what denies it the resonance it seeks--is that the prime mover, the charismatic Kooti, is only glimpsed twice; Shadbolt has written Hamlet without the Prince.
Pub Date: May 26, 1987
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1987
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