Forbath (The Last Hero, 1988, etc.), who died earlier this year, leaves a powerful valedictory based on the real and tragic events precipitated by Portugal's first lodgment in West Africa. In 1482, a caravel dispatched by the Portuguese king to find a sea route to the Indies makes a brief landfall near a mighty river called Zaire by the natives. Leaving the captain's page, 15-year-old Gil Eanes (who's been represented as a royal), to pay the crown's respects to the local chief, the ship sails away, never to return. A talented linguist, Gil impresses the chief and his younger son Mbemba; owing to the enmity of the tribe's juju man, however, he's exiled from the upcountry court to an offshore island well away from established trade routes. Ten years on, the lonely castaway finally flags down another Portuguese vessel. Gil (now with a son by Mbemba's younger sister) gets word of the arrival to Mbemba, who soon after seizes the throne. Eager to learn the art of writing and other of civilization's blessings for his people, the ambitious young prince embraces Catholicism and becomes a vassal of the Portuguese. A decade later, the Portuguese, anxious to settle their new province of Brazil, start casting about for slaves and settle on Mbemba's people, and the Portuguese monarch sends five well-stocked cargo craft to the Kongo (latter-day Zaire). While sanctimonious priests speak of saving souls and building cities on a hill, hard-eyed, well-armed Portuguese soldiers are scouting for bondsmen. Factions long mistrustful of Mbemba rise in rebellion; Gil dies; his son is enslaved; and the Portuguese seize control of the country. Mbemba's penance for the sin of vaulting ambition is to live on as slavers ravage his country and its people. A true adventure brought vividly to live amid the violent social, cultural, and religious conflicts that marked the Dark Continent's first contacts with Europe.