MEN OF MEN by Wilbur Smith

MEN OF MEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A sprawling, exotic sequel to Flight of the Falcon (1981)--with the far-flung Ballantyne family heavily involved in the South Africa of the 1880s: diamonds, colonialism, missionary work, tribal warfare, and treasure-lust. The opening 200 pages or so are best, with the focus firmly on elephant-hunter Zouga, now a widower with two young sons, still dreaming of native loot up north, but working a sorry diamond-mine claim to get money for a new trek to Zambezia. Son Ralph pitches in earthily--fighting, wenching, surviving a causeway collapse, befriending the Matabele laborers, sporting with falcons and baboon spiders: he'll eventually take off on his own trade/treasure expedition, reaching the court of Matabele king Lobengula--where his missionary-medic Aunt Robyn, with husband and daughters, is a court adviser. Meanwhile, Zouga's other son Jordie, a castration-inclined homosexual, becomes ""secretary"" to Cecil Rhodes, who's voraciously extending his land/mineral empire. And as the novel swarms its way up to and past 1890, the focus slips around from subplot to subplot. Robyn's devilish old flame Mungo St. John reappears, with tough mistress Louise (whom Zouga adores after she out-rides him); Ralph woos one cousin but weds another; Ralph's Matabele-warrior friend Bazo leads his men against the Mashona tribe and takes a wife; Zouga goes to work for Rhodes and finds Louise near death in the wild; Ralph defies ancient curses to seize tribal treasures. And, in the final 100+ pages, despite peacemaking efforts by Robyn and (to a lesser extent) Zouga, there's war between Rhodes' colonials and the Matabele--with Zouga battling (but preventing a rape), Robyn's husband a massacre casualty, the Robyn/Mungo lust re-flowering, and Bazo swearing tribal revenge. Veteran Smith makes no attempt to shape these promising materials (not even with chapter divisions); none of the major characters is developed or sympathetic enough to provide a center. But--with diamond-mine details, ritual glitter and gore, and plenty of outdoors action--this is sporadically engrossing as adventure, if not as family saga; and it's certainly an improvement over the lurid excess of Flight of the Falcon.

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 1982
ISBN: 0312940726
Publisher: Doubleday