Seven stars (of ten)
In the third Ballantyne novel, Smith continues with his theme of cultural and racial clashes. As Zouga continues to play a role in the development of Rhodesia and the colonisation of Africa, his son, Ralph, follows in the family tradition, keen on expanding British control of the region and exploitation of its resources. Acting in the Queen’s honour, the Ballantyne men work with Cecil Rhodes to tap into the natural resources of the land, this time in the form of gold and coal deposits. However, the Matabele tribe have finally had enough of this and move to strike out against Rhodes and his men, slaughtering many in light of the expansion of railways and telegraph lines. When the Matabele strike within the Ballantyne family, repercussions are significant as the tribesmen are pushed back and killed. It is only when a loose treaty is signed that things become more peaceful for all involved, but this is only a temporary fix. In the novel’s second part, Smith pushes the story ahead to 1977, utilising the subsequent generations to depict that the clashes of the late 19th century can and do resurrect themselves. With the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) gaining strength in the region, white politicians begin to realise that their stronghold in the region is quickly disappearing. Smith also introduces the reader to Craig Mellow, caught in the crossfire and injured. He is a white man of some importance, great-grandson to Ralph Ballantyne, who must make sacrifices to save himself while his homeland is torn apart by racial wars brewing for over one hundred years. Using some of the handwritten journals left by Ralph and Jonathan Ballantyne, Craig has a better understanding of the goings-on and promises to publish a realistic account of their struggles. While somewhat disjointed, the latter portion of the book continues to sow the seeds of resentment in the region that Smith has painted for the entire series to date. An interesting continuation of the series with that same underlying theme that the reader must, by now, know all too well.
Smith does not shy away from the theme of colonial clashes and the racial unrest in the region. While the argument is solid, the use of the two time periods has both positive and negative outcomes. It does show that these clashes between British-backed men like Cecil Rhodes and the Matabele are not a single historical event, but a larger and more complicated issue that played a key role in future issues between the races. However, that the issue remains unresolved does not add any new flavour to the story and the major jump in time leaves the reader feeling somewhat jilted as they try to organise the larger picture of who fits where and with whom. I suppose, since Smith seeks only to use four novels to depict the entire Ballantyne story, he must take freer liberties and therefore cannot use the time to slowly develop the generations, but it is worth noting as he does create new and interesting characters to take the series into its last novel.
Kudos, Mr. Smith for another interesting perspective. I can only hope that the final novel brings the theme home and highlights the political clashes, with traditional Africans finally making their way to positions of power within the governing party.