"Complicated" doesn't begin to describe the New Zealand Wars.
Pakeha fought Maori, Maori fought Maori, and Pakeha land sharks in Auckland preyed on the Pakeha soldier-settlers.
And then there were the few such as Kimble Bent, a Pakeha who sided with Maori against Pakeha (and Maori).
Auckland illustrator Chris Grosz uses a stark, scraperboard style to take us into the dark, harsh world of the American sailor, soldier, deserter, Hauhau slave and confectioner, who lived among Taranaki Maori in the 1860s.
How much of Bent's story is really true? We'll never know. Apart from anything else, he was a survivor, and we get only his perspective, as told to historian James Cowan in the 1900s.
Bent is caught between two worlds, neither of which is pleasant. After a flogging he deserts the 57th Regiment in 1864 on the eve of the Taranaki War, and seeks protection among Maori, led by Titokowaru.
Grosz takes us into a world of ancient customs, ferocious bush warfare, grief, revenge and ritual cannibalism – more than once Bent has reason to thank a rangatira's protection for saving him from the hangi pit.
It's all a bit grimmer than "the wild adventures of a runaway soldier" promised on the cover.
All up, though, it's a work of some research and depth, an engrossing treatment of the events featured in the much-maligned River Queen.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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