Magazine article The Spectator

Gilding the Lily

Magazine article The Spectator

Gilding the Lily

Article excerpt

WARRIOR by Allan Mallinson Bantam, £17.99, pp. 337, ISBN 9780593058145 £14.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Allan Mallinson's hero, Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Hervey, returns in Warrior with his usual mixture of courage and kindness, his talent for friendship and a military instinct that is second to none.

The first scene shows us, with some high quality gore, that there is trouble in the Cape Colony: 'He fired the carbine pointblank, taking off the top of the spearman's head like a badly sliced egg.' We are then transported to London, where Hervey is tied up for a few days with some complex administrative tasks; he has to organise a funeral, have conversations with a nun, his wife, a bishop, his former lover and various important figures in his regiment.

The conversations and journeys to and fro across London do rather seem to happen in real time, but they serve to show that Hervey's qualities are by no means confined to the battlefield. We see a man not altogether happy, but conscientious to the point of heroism.

Finally, he reaches the Cape, and discussions about the Zulu king Shaka begin.

The king seems unusually barbaric, but things take a slightly unexpected turn when their embassy reaches his palace.

At this point the reader must concentrate and pick up some rudimentary Zulu in order to follow the thread. Indeed, a great deal of the pleasure to be derived from Mallinson's prose seems to be in Getting the Reference; there is a reworking of Julius Caesar's murder, and the comrades quote Horace, Pliny, Shakespeare and the bible liberally as they march. …

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