The year is 1818, and Shaka, the warrior king of the Zulus, is on the verge of consolidating a vast African kingdom. Pushing back against the European powers that consider the continent to be theirs for the taking, as well as warring against the many tribes surrounding him, Shaka stands ready to become one of the most powerful kings Africa had ever seen. But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, and Shaka must be ever alert for traitors and usurpers. To ensure his power, he must sometimes be cruel and ruthless, using his impis — his disciplined, courageous and fearsome regiments.
Since the Zulus had no written language, all we know of the historical Shaka and his people comes to us from writers and historians who were not Zulu. So, it is a monumental task to recreate Shaka’s life and times with any degree of accuracy, but South African writer Golightly succeeds admirably. This sweeping novel follows Shaka from his boyhood up to his final victories over rival tribes and is full of detailed information about Zulu culture and customs. The battle scenes are vivid and realistic and forcefully illustrate the warrior code of the Zulus.
The novel has such an extensive cast of characters that the author is compelled to list them all at the beginning of the book. At times, it is difficult to follow them all, but this is a slight imperfection in a debut novel that is otherwise an interesting and exciting read.