Returning for the second book of his African trilogy, Brian Duncan resumes educating the reader about a significantly contentious period on the African continent. Set years before Duncan’s first novel, the story introduces the reader to Alan Spaight who has returned from serving in the British Army and seeks a new adventure in the uncharted areas of Africa. Spaight arrives near Portuguese East Africa in the late 1880s, hoping to work for the African Lakes Company, which has been doing some good work in the region as it tries to quell the slave trade. Meeting a family of fellow Scots, he travels up the river with them, learning a little more about the region of Africa that struggles to invent itself, surrounded by European imperialists and marauding tribes that use Lake Nyasa as a ‘Lake of Slaves’. A group of slavers lurks in the shadows, half-African and half-Arab, after centuries of intermingling. Plucking the strongest and most able individuals, they are taken into custody and used to further the Arab trade routes, as well as remove Christian influence in the region. Duncan splits the first half of the book between Spaight’s hard work with the African Lakes Company and a narrative about a slave abduction. This latter plot development introduces readers to Goodwill and Kawa, two young men who witness the evils of the Yao tribe, who seek to transport them up the Lake of Slaves where they will be used for their youth and strength. Shackled and forced to endure the most heart-wrenching of horrors, Goodwill and Kawa realise they may have to succumb any chance of freedom again. When Goodwill and Kawa are able to escape during a storm, they must slowly make their way to freedom, ever-watchful of the potential of being captured again. Meanwhile, Spaight tires of having to use his military abilities to quell the slavers. After taking Goodwill under his wing, Spaight seeks the quieter life on a coffee plantation, where he might be able to farm in relative peace. However, as he tries to tackle the coffee business, he finds himself in a love triangle, where the wife of the local surgeon throws herself at him while the clinic’s nurse pines for Alan on the sidelines. When the drama of a pregnancy thickens the plot, Spaight is unsure what to do, so as not to topple all that he has sought to build over the last number of years. When asked to help rid the region of slavers once and for all, Spaight chooses to do the honourable thing, though he is unsure if he will live to see things through back on the plantation. Much drama awaits Spaight, both on the battlefield and back home, where nothing is left to chance. Filled with adventure with actual history as a backdrop, Duncan crafts a wonderful second novel in the trilogy, which leaves readers pining for the final instalment.
Duncan’s trilogy offers readers an interesting look into some of the lesser known (or ignored) developments in the region, particularly during the 19th century. In this second book, the theme of slavery is central, which is sure to offer some less than peaceful descriptions as the characters develop throughout the story. Alan Spaight is an interesting man, whose military past offers some curiosity for the reader. Like his cousin, Martin Russell (who played a prominent role in the first novel), Spaight arrives in Africa knowing little but expecting to ensconce himself in the region’s culture and politics. Duncan again pushes women in the path of his protagonist in order to add some drama to an already emotionally-filled novel, which only enriches the character development on all sides. The use of the Goodwill narrative offers the reader a look into the horrid side of slavery, including punitive actions taken by those who are captured, which seems an essential part of the overall story, as it pushes that first-person view of the treatment of those who were captured and sent into a life of slavery. Duncan instils much drama into the narrative, which flows effortlessly with short chapters, filled with action. There is the obvious aspect of addressing the societal outlook on slavery, though Duncan does not seek to inculcate the reader with information, choosing instead to present the historical approach in hopes of providing a better understanding. Most readers were likely unaware of the development of East Africa and how those territories run by Portugal, Germany, and Britain were all subject to these occurrences, as well as some of the brutal treatment of slaves by non-Europeans at the time. For that, Duncan should be applauded and revered for his dedication. While they can be read independently, both novels pair up nicely and offer a wonderful education for the curious reader, especially those with little knowledge of Africa. I place myself in both camps.
Kudos, Mr. Duncan for a masterful novel that kept me curious about where you plan on taking the reader for the final instalment. Do write and publish soon, as I promote the first two books in the trilogy.