This is my first book review.
Author: Ian Knight.
Paperback: 720 pages
Publisher: Pan; 2 edition (6 May 2011)
On amazon or at Waterstones and other booksellers
Appearance and handling. (Yeah I know don’t judge a book by it’s cover but it’s an interesting angle)
The book in hardback is admirably suited to its high word count, with a grey cover, bold orange red lettering for the title and the fine picture of the Amabutho advancing below it. The downside of all large hardbacks however is the price and the fact it is impractical to carry around. I bought it in paperback.
In paper back the cover takes the colour of a bruised purple sky against which the same Amabutho advances, giving it the appearance of a colour photograph, with a fine study of a Zulu warrior on the spine and a relaxed pose of some sturdy British veterans under the white letters of the synopsise on the back. Livid yellow embossed block capitols stand for the titles over the feathered heads of the Zulus below it and on the spine. I for one have never been for blood splashed titles, now common in publishing, nevertheless I am glad that the publishers did not do the fake gold embossing, (like Saul David’s Zulu) which invariably rubs off on the hands with excessive reading.
The downside of the paperback though is that unless read carefully, with a controlled steadying hand, like all large books, the pages will tend to ladder the further you get, so it’s just something to look out for. I found that there was just enough words on the page to entice rather than put off reading.
I estimate that uninterrupted from interference from the outside world you could get through this in three weeks, it took me a little over that because of other stuff.
This hefty 720 page single volume history of the principle battle of the Anglo Zulu War stands as a monument to 30 years research in the field by Mr. Knight. It is 30 years not wasted.
At the front you will find five black and white maps:
1: The Invasion of Zululand, January 1879
2:The iSandlwana Campaign to 21st January 1879
3: iSandlwana: the opening stages
4: iSandlwana: The British Collapse and Fugitives Flight
5: Battle of Rorke’s Drift, 22/23 January 1879.
In all there is 24 pages of Pictures separated into three sections, with an average of 3 to 4 pictures on each page. All black and white, (period photographs of the men and places he writes about and some period sketches, paintings and engravings, all very interesting)
Written in 2010 it must be considered the author’s finest work yet written and walks the dual roads of European Imperial and Colonial settlement and expansion and the expansion of the Zulu kingdom by King Shaka in 1816, and the subsequent events that lead to those roads crossing in 1879.
The amount of depth and detail that this book holds is mind blowing. Like the finest novel’s and the best movies, characters appear strongly defined from both sides of the Mzinyathi river, and are all the more intriguing Because they where real men. We follow Zulu Warriors and British soldiers through every stage of the buildup, each is treated as if it is a mini biography, set against the terrible drama that enthusiasts know is looming ahead.
Knight’s obvious familiarity with almost every aspect of the conflict and deep knowledge of the ground it was fought over, shines through the pages, the deft touches of a novelist, drawn from personally seeing what he was writing about make everything just that much more real, yet nowhere did I find myself questioning the authenticity of his words for throughout it was treated in the most scholarly style. Everything is shown in the light of historical context and before other reviewers make judgments (such as a few on amazon) the book should be examined in the proper historical and cultural context.
He admirably puts aside prejudice and almost refuses to take sides or give opinion, and shows us rather than tells us what happened, allowing the reader to form his or her own opinion, for stories such as this tell their own story. You will not finish this book without knowing more about iSandlwana and a Rorkes Drift than you did when you opened it, and have a clearer understanding of the lead up, which takes up a good portion of the beginning. The story builds with a perfectly unhurried pace, indeed it makes you as jumpy as a British picket, Because you know that a cataclysm is going to occur, yet more and more is revealed to you and then, suddenly it happens and the true courage, sacrifice, desperation and horror bursts upon you and it is a no holds barred assault on the senses almost to the point of “Make the madness stop!”, and it’s hard not to feel stunned as the terrible enormity of the disaster comes to life in black and white on the page and in the darker colours of the images that form in the back of your mind.
You will be left engaged and intrigued by the beginning, stunned and shocked by iSandlwana, awed by Rorkes Drift and thoughtful at the legacy. Your knowledge of the Zulu war machine and culture will be boosted and so too of the scale of organisation it took to send so many men to their deaths.
iSanlwana takes up the bulk of the book, with Rorkes Drift treated as a backdrop and then when the action starts proper as a chapter to finish the tale of fighting.
Some may have wished more, yet the action at kwaJim’s (Zulu for Rorkes Drift) cannot be placed in alongside iSandlwana as Anything but a unfortunate and somewhat embarrassing incident for the Zulus and a desperately short, sharp and brutal do or die stand for the British, which reaped great rewards, and there is much to appreciate in this view because it connects the dots between it all so well.
No review is possible without some critique, and mine is a small thing. That is that I wished there could have been more. If knew Knight I would have advised him strongly to not wrap up the book with the short roundup of the events leading to the end of the war and rather finish it by letting the reader know (as he does anyway) the fates of those directly involved, and make this the first volume of a series about the whole war, that would, if treated with the same care and detail, have surely become the definitive work on the entire war. Nevertheless despite this, I must now consider Zulu Rising to be the definitive work on the beginning of the Zulu War, and especially of that stunning Wednesday 22nd January in 1879 when God Closed his eyes for grief to look upon the slopes of iSandlwana.