The Kraals of Ulundi

Written by David Ebsworth
Review by Christoph Fischer

Set in Zulu land in 1879, The Kraals of Ulundi is an incredibly well researched and detailed masterpiece of historical fiction. I knew next to nothing about the Zulu conflict when I started reading and expected to get maybe a vague insight. Ebsworth’s book exceeded those notions by far. It includes not only historical and military facts, it brilliantly portrays the Zulu culture, their customs, rituals and their views to an extent that goes way beyond what I had hoped for. The results are plausible, fascinating and insightful and add a great perspective to the unfolding of the conflict.

The usage of Zulu words and grammar (e.g. iLondon for London) were at times confusing despite the comprehensive glossary, but they were a well-placed constant reminder of perspective and showed how different the two cultures that clashed with each other were. British negotiation tactics, military and colonial behaviour and thinking are equally well portrayed and realistic whenever the story is told from the invaders’ perspective.

The characters are well chosen with some unusual additions from other continents and from outside the military conflict, complimenting the novel perfectly by introducing different viewpoints. None of them serve as an empty vessel or a stereotypical ploy for the story. These characters existed and played a part in the unfolding of history, and in the book they carry multiple functions and are entertaining and fascinating in their own right.

An accomplished, rich, beautifully produced and very rewarding read that brings a lesser-known era of history to life.