Zulu Hart Paperback – Mar 5 2009
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'Gems like this are too rare. I was hooked in ten pages.'—Conn Iggulden on ZULU HART
Saul David, a splendid narrator, interweaves histories of each of the early wars of Victoria's reign with the Queen's own experiences—Sunday Telegraph on VICTORIA'S WARS
Saul David has already shown himself to be a first-rate historian, now he proves to be a masterly story-teller. ZULU HART left me wanting more...much more—Bernard Cornwell
Must supersede Donald Morris's bestseller The Washing of the Spears—Allan Massie, Daily Telegraph on ZULU
David is brilliant at showing both sides of the combat and the book includes magnificent accounts of the shambles that was Isandlwana and the feat at arms that followed it at Rorke's Drift.—Shaun Hutson, Independent on Sunday Books of the Year, on ZULU
A great narrative, a powerful story told at an exciting pace that never neglects the colourful details—Princess Michael of Kent, Mail on Sunday on VICTORIA'S WARS
About the Author
Saul David is the author of several critically-acclaimed history books, including The Indian Mutiny: 1857 'shortlisted for the Westminster Medal for Military Literature', Zulu: The Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879 'a Waterstone's Military History Book of the Year' and, most recently, Victoria's Wars: The Rise of Empire. A Professor of Military History at the University of Buckingham, he is currently working on a history of the British Army.
An experienced broadcaster, Saul David has presented and appeared in history programmes for all the major TV channels and is a regular contributor to Radio 4. In 2009 he presents 'Secrets of Elizabeth's Armada' for BBC2's flagship history series, Timewatch.
Top Customer Reviews
Saul David, a trained historian and writer of respected texts on Victorian foreign policy, has created an interesting character -- a quarter-Zulu British cavalry officer driven to seek his fortune in Africa and destined to witness the epic 1879 battles at both Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift. With such a promising premise David manages only to throw it all away with juvenile-level writing and an inability to make his characters behave in a 19th-century manner. His hero George Hart resembles a whiny left-wing social worker of 2010 more than he does a soldier of Victoria's imperial army. Moreover for someone of low rank and teenage years he talks back to superior officers and politicians in a way that would never have been tolerated.
Though capable of adding interesting period detail such as the intricacies of the Martini-Henry rife David commits annoying little blunders such as assuming there was ship-to-ship radio in 1879 or that provincial towns in England operated their own C.I.D.s. To make matters worse, miraculous coincidences are the order of the day in every chapter and Hart is shown to be the military genius of the Zulu campaign that could have spared Britain its every set-back if only they had listened to him.
I'm not going to be bothering with the sequel.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
George Hart has some Zulu blood in him and a father who is significant in the British establishment but who remains unknown to George. There is some nonsense about a legacy/bounty if George shows himself to be a proper warrior but this felt very contrived within the confines of this story. Anyway, his dark features attract some prejudice and he is tricked into resigning from the British Army. He eventually finds himself in South Africa just prior to, and leading up to involvement in, the battle against the Zulu at Rorke's Drift. George ends up as a runner for Lord Chelmsford, giving him (and us readers) the opportunity to see him scamper around the events and, finally, to be involved in the battle at Rorke's Drift.
An able historian, Saul David provides a solid (if slightly pedestrian) historical perspective of the events, one that does not show the British Element in the best light. Sadly, as with many historians that turn their hands to fiction, it is the characterisation and the dialogue that lets this down. As a character, George had great potential, but the dialogue and interaction comes over as clunky and inappropriate for the audience and the circumstance. This was a very hierarchal society and yet George has easy access and communicates with everyone the same way. A couple of the themes the author runs with, George's legacy/bounty and his internal battle between Zulu and British heritage also have insufficient depth or interest. Finally the author gives hero George credit for some of the actions for which the real defenders of Rorke's Drift were awarded the Victoria Cross!
These events were better covered in John Wilcox's book "Horns of the Buffalo" - also fiction but far, far better.
George Hart is a Dublin born, half Irish half Zulu mix breed raised by his actress mother, and reared as a British gentleman. Upon coming of age his mother divulges that he has a father, and this father who abandoned him as a child due to his indiscretions of having an affair with a black woman, was unable to face racial confrontations that society of the times would incur upon his flawless military career and social standing. But this mysterious father, who chooses to remain anonymous to his son, comes forth on Georges 18th birthday and dictates an agreement that George's mother can not refuse. George and his mother stand to inherit a grandiose sum of money that will allow them to continue living in the lap of luxury if George abides by the accomplishments his father wishes him to achieve. He is to enroll in the British regiment of the King's Dragoons and raise himself to highest rank and excellence. He is to win a Victoria Cross award and is to marry within aristocracy all by the time he reaches 28 years of age. Upon George's learning of this ridiculous list of standards to be met, he soon realizes he has no choice as his mother's meager salary will not keep her in the finery she is accustomed to, and that they will be paupers if he does not succeed. At first the character of George Hart seems endearing and you feel for his plight in life, but half way through the book his character gets lost in the factual sections of the battle strategies of the English/Zulu war.
The story thus engages George's military career of many challenges against racial prejudices that lead him to abandon his regiment and seek fortune and fame in South Africa where he plans to attempt his hand at diamond mining. Upon shipping out, his mother once again lands him a blow, informing him that his roots are there in Africa, and that he himself is part Zulu contradicting what he was told as a child, that he was Maltese. Wishing to learn of his heritage and to rid himself of the bloody regime of military discipline, he leaves for Zululand eager to find his way in life. Once his feet land on African shores the reader then suffers through his inability to make a choice as to where his heart lies, and plods along until he finally chooses to once again take up arms with a low ranking military cavalry regiment to assist the British in their battle against the Zulus, his very own people.
The story lacks human elements of love, friendship, drama, excitement, or something to make the characters or the story come alive. The writing style is very simplistic and not very accomplished leaving me no choice to quit three quarters of the way through, not caring to finish the book. Lover's of high quality historical fiction will find it hard to wade through this, but perhaps true historians or scholars of Zulu history might get something out of it. A few scenes of action and excitement were certainly needed to help me give higher praise to this disappointing debut, but the book just does not deliver.
We have a few problems with the book. As he is a lecturer professor in history I will let him have the benefit of the doubt when it comes to interjecting the way we now use Bombshell as if they did it the same in 1878.
But aside from those minor quibbles the major ones are that the hero is unbelievable, and certainly in too many places. As well as the interjection of history is right in our faces. We meet an officer of a regiment and we are given a clinical rundown of his uniform. We are shown a place and it is the elements of the picture in a list separated by commas instead of narrative description that flows. It stops us and makes it hard to think we are in a story and not in a history lesson.
I did say though that our hero, George Hart just was doing too much and not believable because of it. First he is the bastard son of the Duke of Cambridge, so the great grandson of king George III. Despite the author trying to be mysterious it is all too obvious that is what he has done. Then, he is also the grandson of a Zulu chief's daughter. So he is 1/4 black. A secret that one takes to the grave in Victorian England. They do not have our sensibilities that we do. If the hero is going to move up in society, be a part of any white society, he has to be white. Or have done something that will let him be in society and George hasn't done anything when we meet him. So my suspension of disbelief is gone.
And George likes telling everyone his secret. Certainly the officer corp is going to work well with him, not. But then George gets himself on Chelmsford staff, finds a reason to get stuck in at Isandlwana and surviving that, gets himself to Rorke's Drift as well. While we may have needed to see a Historical Novel dealing with these battles, George gets there in a far fetched notion, and then as the book with so much back story, again unbelievable, that it is time to end and we don't see the end of the Battle at the Drift, or the end of the campaign.
When I was a lad, before I became a historian, before I became a writer, ZULU became one of my favorite movies. While Saul David may know a firmer history than that of the movie, he did not go through with it and I sense that he also took some shortcuts to make his hero more heroic, at the cost of those who actually did the heroic actions in reality. You have to be a die hard lover of this period, I think to want to read the Hart Series. Taking some pointers from the Fonthill books of Wilcox which I find work better might have given George Hart a chance. His Zulu blood I think dooms him to ever be an effective part of the society of the times, and his english parent also ruins the credibility of the hero.