bookspluslife

November 14, 2013

Book: Assegai by Wilbur Smith

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:32 pm

imageAssegai, of course, refers to the spear used by Southern African people in olden times, to hunt. The title is not arbitrary; the spear plays an important part in the story.

First, this is another one of the typical Wilbur Smith books and has the Courtney family prominently in it with the Ballantyne family also playing a part. If you like Wilbur’s books, you will not be disappointed with this one either. The prescribed sex, gore, promiscuity and the devil-may-care love of adventure and daredevilry are all there for you to enjoy.

If you like Wilbur Smith books, please read our reviews of other Wilbur Smith books earlier in this forum.

The story? Oh, does it really matter? It starts explosively when Leon (see below), Manyoro (see below) and some others are ambushed by Nandi tribesmen and escape from death by the skin of their teeth. The tempo nearly never flags throughout the book.

It involves Leon Courtney who learns of women and sex from Verity O’Hearne a wealthy and very beautiful widow who falls for Leon like a ton of bricks. After teaching him the facts of life and ‘making him a man’ so to speak, she conveniently disappears, after professing her enduring love for the young man, and advising him to find a more suitable girl to marry.

Now, Leon is friends with Manyoro, a black man and meets his mother Lusima, who can predict the future when she gets into a trance.  Lusima is the Queen Bee for the village and so Manyoro is special. Leon actually carries a wounded Manyoro on his back after the attach at the start of the book and thereby earns undying gratitude from Lusima.

A general comment on all of Wilbur Smith’s books. They exude the old world charm of the adventurous gentlemen of the early twentieth century trusting their pluck, skill and their weapons to take them out of any situation, their romance with gorgeous women whom they sweep off their feet, and all that. However, they are never prudent, they seem rash in today’s world, and there is a faint whiff of the benevolent white man looking after the not-so-clever-or-skilled natives in spite of the fact that they treat the latter as their brothers.

Now back to the book: Apart from the murderous Nandi tribesmen, there are other characters, some of whom are of the type found in all Wilbur’s books. The prescribed list of villains here include the cruel Major Snell who slights Leon at every turn because of his jealousy over Leon’s success with Valerie (while he was snubbed) and jealousy over Leon’s uncle Penrod Ballantyne (‘Twopenny’) and who was called Freddie the Frog behind his back due to his remarkable resemblance to the creature in his face. Colonel Wallace, the attorney, arrogant, sure of himself who prosecutes Leon for dereliction of duty in the Nandi attack.

Leon finally gets a discharge and goes to help Percy Delameyre, an ethical ivory trader, on the recommendation of Uncle Penny (Penrod). He becomes the greatest hunting guide after an expedition with Teddy Roosevelt (yes, he makes a cameo appearance in the book) and his fame spreads so that the colonel to Hitler, Count Otto von Meerbach comes to get his guidance in hunting lions. There is a lot of hunting that Otto does and in the meanwhile two things happen : Leon learns to fly the newfangled instrument that Otto brought (a plane) and he and his companion Countess Eva von Wellberg fall hopelessly in love for each other. Dangerous, forbidden love. But of course it turns out that she is not his wife at all, a mistress, and also is associated with the British Intelligence as a spy. All right, then!

Otto of course is fearless and wants to hunt a pride of three lions singlehandedly, with just a spear – the assegai – as the Masai themselves do. But he is also on a secret mission to destroy Africa, and is the quintessential Wilbur Smith villain. During the hunt, things go wrong and he gets grievously wounded, which offers Eva and Leon the chance to escape to safety. They run away and resist attempts by Hans and his crew to recapture them.

Other people populate the books. The Indian trader – what is his name? –  is funny and is totally new to Wilbur Smith books – his flowery turns of phrase evoke laughter.

The ending is cliff hanging suspense, in true Wilbur Smith style.

Definitely worth a read – nothing new here but it is fun. I will give it a 6/10

–       – Krishna

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