by Geoff Lawson
In this book the reader will find all the elements of a fast-paced adventure story set against a backdrop of instant and all-conquering young love.
It is set mainly in the Cape Colony and Orange Free State, as the chief protagonist has joined the first contingent of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles who have answered the call of the ‘motherland’ to help suppress the uprising that becomes the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. The main action takes place over a short period of a few months at the beginning of the war, during a time when the British have suffered a number of defeats while trying to come to terms with the guerrilla tactics adopted by the Afrikaner forces.
Those parts of the story that are not set in South Africa take place in South Taranaki (especially Patea) and Whanganui. These describe the first meeting between the hero and a wilful and very pretty young girl, daughter of a wealthy department store owner. A few years later when they both reach young adulthood they almost instantly fall in love. Her father does not at first approve. She also has a ne’er-do-well brother. These two complications add further twists to the plot. A misunderstanding between the lovers leads the hero to enlist with the Mounted Rifles.
The hero is one of the classic kind. During his war service he is ordered to undertake various missions including the capture or killing of a dangerous saboteur working for the Boers, and the protection of a beautiful but arrogant young English aristocrat who has become stranded dangerously close to the action and must be returned to her husband and safety. He also, on his own initiative, puts his life on the line to warn an approaching British contingent of an ambush that has been set up by the Boers. The action is fast-paced and involving.
The hero proves to be very attractive not only to his love back in Whanganui, but also to various young women who become part of his experiences while at war. There is the beautiful young aristocrat, for example (who loses her distaste for one she at first perceives as being much below her), and the attractive daughter of English settlers in a remote town in which he is stationed for a while. There is, too, a lovely blonde Afrikaner girl who takes care of him when he is captured by a Boer guerrilla group.
This is very much a plot-led novel, and it certainly maintains reader interest. The author clearly has historical knowledge of features of life in the late nineteenth century, especially in Whanganui, though the language used in sections of the dialogue, and some of the terms used, are occasionally somewhat anachronistic. On the other hand, his detailed knowledge of firearms and of New Zealand railway history certainly add authentic touches.
The service of the first of the ten contingents of New Zealand Mounted Rifles that participated in the Second Boer War provides a particularly interesting backdrop to a novel of this kind, and the author deals with the issues involved with considerable sympathy. This adds another and welcome dimension to the book; but its major attraction to the reader will be the exploits of the hero, and the devotion of his sweetheart. He answers the call of duty even though it means leaving his love behind; but for this, he is forgiven.
This novel is both easy to read and entertaining.