Review by L illiane Bwire -- Brutal Valour: The Tragedy ...

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L illiane Bwire
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Review by L illiane Bwire -- Brutal Valour: The Tragedy ...

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[Following is a volunteer review of "Brutal Valour: The Tragedy of Isandlwana" by James Mace.]
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4 out of 4 stars
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Book Review: By Lilliane Bwire

Brutal Valour: The Tragedy of Isandlwana, Book One of Anglo-Zulu War, James Mace USA, Legionary Books, 2016, 487 pages

Through historical fiction, James Mace delves into the behind the scenes lead up to the tragic events during the battle of Isandlwana in Southern Africa. The book published in 2016 recounts with brutal honesty and accuracy the events of 1879. The author traces the lives of Arthur Wilkinson and Richard Lowe. The new recruits eager for adventure and overseas service in the Queen’s 24th Regiment C Company are led by Augustus Thesiger or Lord Chelmsford onto the battlefield. The two combat King Ceteshwayo warriors in an epic confrontation that later reshaped Southern Africa history. James Mace detours from conventional history textbooks to give the unaccounted side of the events. The book moves from the regiment grounds in Brecon Wales into the pits of deep unchartered Africa and its warrior peoples.

In the book an 18th century British fire power machine meets the surreal 40000 strong tactful army of Zulu warriors at the Battle of Isandlwana. Ceteshwayo the King of the moment is a daring protagonist taking on the mighty Queen’s Reds with devastating infliction on the Queen’s soldiers who die in their thousands. Ceteshwayo is a man grieved by demands from his 'sister' the Queen. He has received a raft of untenable demands from the British High Commissioner in South Africa; Sir Bartle Frere to cede his land, disband his army and make reparations for recent incursions. He instead chooses to wage a war on his erstwhile friend-The British. And the loss no less, his sorrow at the loss of his 5000 warriors in the battle summed up in the following words quote]there are not enough tears to mourn the dead.[/quote]

The reverberating story for lovers of history has its moments of comedy too. James Mace’s style works a trajectory from the often fed -one sided story of Great Britain’s supremacy against African Natives. He is not afraid to make and paint Ceteshwayo kaMpande as a cunning Zulu war hero who lay ambush to the fumbling 24th Regiment led by the assuming Baron Chelmsford. His flawed confidence, miscalculated plan and little regard for a native army cost him 1300 lives of soldiers in ‘blood and gore.’

The writer brings forth vast experience of a historian, displaying clear understanding of the African terrain, its peoples and their ways. This is not his first historical fiction but he has excelled in nineteen other books of the same genre. He splashes pages with pictures of costumes in animal skins, artifacts, equipment and tools from Africa and abroad to build the world for the reader. This gives an authentic and exotic outline to the story.

He employs local dialects and lingo to give gist to his work, weaving a yarn that delights the reader with details of local African life and the Victorian days in England’ s decades of expansionism. A glossary in the appendix gives meaning to new and different words.

James has written an honest account without sugar coating British vulnerabilities. The book is well researched, thorough in detailing the expanses and intrigues of the European excursions into Africa. It is worth every historian’s read. As an ardent fan of African history and historical fiction, I enjoyed it immensely. The writer uses facts and real time names for his characters. It is a refreshing insight from the textbook that excludes the human stories and life at large. He puts human faces to historical events that shaped nations setting records straight. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and as a lover of historical fiction the writer comes on top.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars because the author has outdone history textbooks.

Book Summary:

The Book title has a befitting as it brings to the fore the horrific details of battle in brutal gallantry displayed by both fighters in an epic volume. And on the African side he exposes family feuds turned into mass slaughter. The book has a forward, preface and prologue.

The compelling account of British roguishness and brutishness meets the brutish Ceteshwayo. The setting of the book moves from London to Africa and back as troops are deployed in remote Africa to make new homes serving the Queen in the expanse of famed British Empire. The author exposes the existent brutality in pre - colonial Africa. Tribal wars left thousands dead due to bitter sibling rivalry, betrayal and infighting in pursuit of consolidating political power. The search for show of might and power was not only confined to the imperialists but cost lives untold in and without the colonial boundaries.

The writer zeroes into the combination of spiritualism and militarism resident in many African nations. Fighters psyched up under influence of herbal concoctions they believed offered divine protection. The fighters entered the battlefield under hail of bullets. In great conviction they believed the white man’s bullets would cause them no harm, leave alone dying from gunfire.

The length of the novel has weaved in several plots with the main one. A freshly married young soldier and his fellow soldier and childhood friend set out to serve with privilege the royal empire. They leave England excited for a per adventure. But end up regretting why he left home in the first place as he battles for life in the gorges of deep Africa .The scheming British Commissioner had a hidden motive and initiates moves to make a quick take of the famed Zulu kingdom. He ends up full of egg on his face. King Ceteshwayo from past local victories has consolidated his kingdom from the family fragmentation and will give none room to move it an inch.

The entire book has numerous characters and may lose one with all their names, military ranks and titles. But we see the dimensional development of the main protagonists in the story line- King Ceteshwayo, Arthur Wilkinson, Richard Lowe and Lord Chelmsford. These major characters stays the course through a myriad challenges until they come to their natural ends. Through fictional characters the writer relives the historical events live as happened. A young Arthur represented dozens of young men who had escaped poverty at home for adventure. A cause they had so eagerly given into brought grief to those left behind

Several themes span the book but the major themes of Patriotism is apparent on both continents and its people. Each seeks to fight and defend their motherland at whatever cost. The Red coats considered it great favor and privilege to serve in the Queen’s army and wear the colors. Overseas service meant escape from home boredom and hunger. They even had a morbid way of courting disaster to gain promotion. The war front gave opportunity to display invincibility that earned you power and promotion.

Colonialism and its brutal effects in Africa is a theme enhanced by Sir Bartle Frere. He schemed on how to destroy what he considered a strong mighty army. And eventually brought the Zulu kingdom on its knees, the result was an easy imperial conquest. The excesses of colonial brutality resulted in punishing whole communities in massacres to sooth egos.The divide and Rule concept where the British bought loyalty from one African group to spy and fight those considered tougher.

The setting is in a not so developed England but a poverty stricken one. Scenes are of a country whose citizens are struggling having just come out plagues and war. The setting enters rural Africa, with absent or scarce means of transport and clothes a rarity on the native bodies. The land looks wild and raw where wild animals roamed the plains together with man.

Discrimination comes forth as a theme too. Derogatory terms are used to refer to the African peoples. They regarded the Africans as black creatures. The black contrasted whites and among whites the educated and uneducated did not sit well with each other. The white generals considered Africans soldiers as inferior and disorganized barbarians armed with archaic weapons and minimal casualties.

African Resistance is a common theme in African history. Through incredible research he gives the backstory, the inside story of what happened. He delves deep into the intrigues of African kingdoms, and a rulership of terror.
It is a world of men; women’s voices are domesticated in both societies. The women do not feature on the list of heroism besides being seen as sale-able for marriage and an appeasement to men’s desires.That omission I did not like because women did play a role including cooking for the warriors. In the book they are painted as a nuisance or hindrance.
Poor Judgement in underestimating the African military prowess, led to the huge loss. Chelmsford ended up like a man utterly crushed.

******
Brutal Valour: The Tragedy of Isandlwana
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