The cover jacket of this new historical action novel has promotional blurbs touted by two famous authors in this genre, Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden. My feeling is that the publisher must have paid these two exemplary authors to praise this debut novel, because as a reader of many books of this kind by those authors and many other quality historical fiction giants, I can tell you honestly this falls so far below their excellence it is simply inconceivable to put Saul David in their arena. Saul David is a historian and has written non-fiction books. This is exactly how Zulu Hart reads. Factual, dry, flat, and boring like text book history. I wanted so much to enjoy this book, I know nothing about the Zulu tribes, their history or their war with the British in the late 1800s, and although the accurate history is there, there is none of the required fictional elements that make these types of novels exciting to read.
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.