The Angels Weep
By Wilbur Smith
-----This was an outstanding novel, even though it contains, what I think is, the most annoying disruption any novel can have. Only Wilbur Smith can make me continue to read a book with a 100 year break right smack in the middle.
-----'The Angels Weep' is about the settlement of Rhodesia after the Matabele have been defeated. Zouga, Ralph, and their friend Jan Cheroot explore the land in a quest for the most beautiful and bountiful land available, but they run into some trouble along the way.
-----"Where is Jan Cheroot?" Zouga shouted, and as if in reply they heard the clap of rifle fire in the forest on the left, and they swung the horses in that direction.'
-----"Can you see him?" Ralph called.'
'-----The bush was thicker ahead of them, and the thorn branches whipped at their thighs as they passed. There was a second shot, and immediately afterward the furious ear-numbing roars of a lion mingled with Jan Cheroot's shrill squeals of terror.'
-----"He is in trouble!" Zouga called anxiously, as they burst out of the thick scrub.'
'-----Before them there lay parkland, fine open grass beneath the flat-topped acacia trees along the crest of the ridge. A hundred yards ahead Jan Cheroot was tearing along the crest, twisting in the saddle to look over his shoulder, his face a mask of terror, his eyes huge and glistening white. He had lost his hat and rifle, but he was lashing his mount across the neck and shoulders, although the animal was already at a wild uncontrolled gallop.'
'-----The lion was a dozen strides behind them, but gaining with each elastic bound as though they were standing still. Its heaving flank was painted slick and shiny with bright new blood, shot through the guts, but the wound had not crippled nor even slowed the beast. Rather it had maddened him, so that the blast of sound from his throat sounded like the thunder of the skies.'
'-----Ralph swerved his gelding to try and intercept the little Hottentot and alter the angle to give himself an open shot at the lion, but at that moment the cat came up out of its flat, snaking charge, reared up over the bunched and straining quarters of the horse and raked them with the long curved talons so that the sweat-darkened hide opened in deep parallel wounds and blood smoked from them in a crimson cloud.'
'-----The horse shrieked and lashed out with its hind hooves, catching the lion in the chest, so that he reeled and lost a stride. Immediately he gathered himself and came again, quartering in beside the running horse, his eyes inscrutably yellow as he prepared to leap astride the panic-driven animal.'
-----"Jump, Jan Cheroot!" Ralph yelled. The lion was too close to risk a shot. "Jump, damn you!" But Jan Cheroot did not appear to have heard him; he was clinging helplessly to the tangled flying mane, paralyzed with fear.'
'-----The lion rose lightly into the air and settled like a huge bird on the horses back, crushing Jan Cheroot beneath his massive, blood-streaked body. At that instant, horse and rider and lion seemed to disappear into the very earth, and there was only a swirling column of dust to mark where they had been. Yet the shattering roars of the enraged animal and Jan Cheroot's howls of terror grew even louder as Ralph galloped up to the point on the ridge where they had disappeared.'
-----"The devil is killing me!" screamed Jan Cheroot, and Ralph could see him pinned beneath the body of the horse. The horse must have broken its neck in the fall; it was a lifeless heap with head twisted up under its shoulder, and the lion was ripping the carcass and saddle, trying to reach Jan Cheroot.'
-----"Lie Still," Ralph shouted down at him. "Give me a clear shot!"
'-----But it was the lion that heard him. He left the horse and came up the vertical side of the pit with the ease of a cat climbing a tree, his glossy muscular hindquarters driving him lightly upwards and his pale eyes fastened upon Ralph as he stood on the lip of the deep hole.'
'-----Ralph dropped on one knee to steady himself for the shot and aimed down into the broad golden chest. The jaws were wide open, the fangs long as a mans forefinger and whit as polished ivory; the deafening clamor from the open throat dinned into Ralph's face. He could smell the rotten-flesh taint of the lion's breath, and flecks of saliva splattered against his cheeks and forehead.'
'-----He fired and pumped the loading handle and fired again, so swift that the shots were a continuous sound. The lion arched backward, hung for a long moment from the wall of the pit, and then toppled and fell back upon the dead horse.'(Pages 9-10)*
-----The excitement keeps up the whole time. You can always count on Wilbur to keep the story rolling, and your heart pumping.
-----The second half of the novel starts in the year 1977 and deals with the violent fighting that still is going on between the destitute and desperate native tribes, and the overwhelming white government that seeks to run their lives.
-----The story is centered around Craig Mellow (you may recognize one of his distant relatives in the first half of the book, Harry Mellow) and Samson Kumalo, a relative of the last Matabele king, Bazo, and the man that finally returns the famous falcons to their land.
'-----Craig mellow drove with his foot jamming the accelerator to the floorboards. Though the vehicle's body clattered and banged loosely, he had always serviced and tuned the engine himself, and the speedometer pressed against the stop pin at the end of the dial. There is only one way to go into an ambush, and that is flat out. Get through it as fast as possible, remembering always that they usually laid it out at least half a kilometer deep. Even at 150 kilometers an hour, that meant receiving fire for twelve seconds. In that time a good man with an AK-47 can get off three magazines of thirty rounds each.'
'-----Yes, the way to go in was fast - but of course a land mine was a beast of an entirely different color. When they boosted one of those sweethearts with ten kilos of plastic, it kicked you and your vehicle fifty feet in the air and shot your spine out through the top of you skull.'
'-----So although Craig lounged comfortably on the hard leather seat, his eyes scoured the road ahead. This late in the day there had been traffic through ahead of him, and he drove for the diamond tracks in the dust, but he watched for an extraneous tuft of grass, an old cigarette packet, or even a dried patch of cow dung that could conceal the marks of a dig in the road. Of course this close to Bulawayo he was in more danger from a drunken driver that from terrorist activity, but it was wise to nurture the habit'(Pages 365-366)
-----It was a dangerous land he drove through, made even more dangerous by the uprising that threatened to take the land from the white men who called it 'home'. If you've gotten this far in the series, make sure you have a copy of the last book handy, because you're not going to want this one to ever stop.
-----Wilbur Smith now lives on this land that he so feverently writes about, so your about to get a firsthand view into the beauty and danger of a country trying to establish itself in a harsh modern world.
*'The Angels Weep', Wilbur Smith. Ballantine Books, New York, 1982.