Another uncompromising fable of brutal oppression and vengeance run riot in a mythical foreign land. The land is carefully unnamed, but it is a place of veldts and kraals, lions and diamond mines, very like Nicol's native South Africa. To it comes a youth schooled in bitterness and revenge ever since his father was arrested and hanged years ago for unspecified crimes. All the youth's encounterswith a treacherous schoolteacher who tries to entice him back to the blessings of civilization; with a community of abusive monks; with a blind gypsy who nurses him; with the pimp Joe Silver and his entourage of ``protÇgÇes''; with the ivory trader Schmidtreinforce the lessons of his greatest teacher, the woodsman Madach: The world is violent and unfair, and no one is to be trusted. All this is set forth in an elemental style aclang with biblical cadences and folktale echoes, and marked by determined understatements and omissions (no dates; practically no proper names or place names; only the sketchiest, most immediate details about psychological motivation) likely to put off readers who aren't already familiar with the conventions of magic realism or Norse sagas. Arriving in ``the south,'' the youth takes the name of Daupus (Death), announces his mission of wholesale vengeance, and recruits a wayward band of mercenaries who start off burdened under the weight of their own betrayals and injusticesa trap in which their fellows were slaughtered and themselves left for deadbut who emerge, through a series of ever more sinister ``contracts,'' as a prophetically amoral force willing to ally themselves with rapists and slaversevery contract leading Daupus and his men closer to a final apocalyptic degradation. Even darker than Nicol's dreamlike earlier parables The Powers That Be (1989) and This Day and Age (1992). In his quest for the archaic power of cultural prophecy, the author seems indifferent to the more mundane task of pleasing his audience.