Thursday, May 9, 2013
Finished the H.Rider Haggard novel Allan Quatermain a few days ago. It's the direct sequel to King Solomon's Mines and tells the whopping tale of how Quatermain, now rich from his earlier expedition loses interest in civilized life after the death of his son and joins up with his old mates from the earlier novel, Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good to once again go to Africa, this time to find the legendary white race which might exist in the heart of the continent.
This novel is not quite the ferocious read that King Solomon's Mines was. There is a sense of repetition with the lead characters who aside from Quatermain develop hardly at all from the first novel, in fact seem less so. Curtis in particular seems just a big of a lunk through most of the story and the goofy charm Good brought to the last story seems a tad forced this time. Newly added for comedic effect is the cowardly Frenchman Alphonse, a great cook but lousy fighter. He's worth a few chuckles.
The real reason though to get and read this novel is Umslopagaas, the utterly ferocious Zulu warrior who is an old companion of Quatermain's who joins up with the expedition and brings an utterly vibrant energy to the proceedings. His wild and unpredictable nature livens up the story which for long sections alas lies dormant and staid. Not when Umslopagaas swings his mighty axe Inkosi-kaas, a brutal weapon with a bladed side and a spiked side which is often used by Unslopagaas in a striking fashion giving him the nickname "The Woodpecker". His fatalistic charm gives this novel the charge it needs to keep chugging.
This isn't a bad novel by any stretch, it's a good one, but alas doesn't have the brisk pacing of the first Quatermain adventure. The characters seem also to want to inflict their Victorian morality on all they meet and that fundamental rejection of the native cultures comes across as patronizing, not something I felt reading King Solomon's Mines where they cultures were presented warts and all but not undermined necessarily. The racism inherent in a story of this type seems a bit more pointed also.
There are some great fights, but the most exciting parts of the story happen in the middle and once the expedition finds the Zu-Vendis, the lost white race, the story actually begins to contract a bit falling into a predictable pattern which seems to move unnecessarily slowly at times. Also I noticed that Umslopogaas disappears for those parts of the story which lumbered. He's the juice that makes this story run for sure.
So get and read Alan Quatermain, but do so with some mild cautions.