This book takes place in Zimbabwe around the year 2194. In this book, there are many main characters. The point of view switches off between children who sneak off from their home and detectives who are hired to find them.
Three children- Tendai, Rita, and Kuda are overprotected by their parents. But their parents have a pretty good reason for that. Their father is General Matsika, a great man who stopped most of the gangs in Zimbabwe and is greatly respected by many people.
If someone were to kidnap or hurt these children, the whole country would be affected. So these children have their lessons instructed by their teachers through the holoscreen (a telephone with a three-dimensional with a three-dimensional viewing screen).
Then they did their homework, which was sent to the teachers by the computer. Once a week a martial arts instructor would come to teach the children about combat and some martial arts skills.
Tendai– the oldest child is probably the protagonist, since the book is from his point of view a lot. Tendai is really spacey, and is always “dwaaling” (which means to daydream in African). His martial arts instructor is always telling Tendai to stop dwaaling. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Tendai could become a spirit medium (in African culture they communicate with the spirit world).
Tendai has a very active imagination. He is always wondering about things outside of the activity he is doing right at the moment. Things like “I wonder what would happen if this was in ancient times…” Tendai also has a big heart. When he was practicing throwing spears into bags of sand, he thought “what does it feel like to drive a spear into a person?” and he felt didn’t feel very good. He feels the other person’s pain, but that is a bad trait for a soldier.
But the best trait Tendai has is leadership. When the children are out walking around on the streets of Zimbabwe for the first time, he takes care of his younger siblings and makes sure they don’t get hurt.
This book is very interesting. The characters develop and change as the plot thickens. The author does this very smoothly, you barely notice that the characters changed that much until you compare what they were like at the beginning. Compare the text on page 13, a conversation between the martial arts instructor and General Matsika (Tendai’s father) about Tendai:
“Believe me, I’ve tried it. He thinks too much. Thinking has its place, but not during battle”
“what are you telling me?”
“that he isn’t cut out for a military career,” said the instructor. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t want to hear this. Your other son has the right spirit. He’s a real little lion”
“are you”- Tendai could hear Father looming out of his chair- “are you saying my son’s a coward?”
Compare that to the text on page 285, where the mhondoro (the spirit of the land) has entered Tendai’s body. Tendai is about to be painfully sacrificed to the Gondwannan gods, and the mhondoro is talking to him inside his head.
“I have to act through humans, as spirits always do, so both of us will have to look for a weak spot in the Gondwannan defenses. If the worst happens, you’re going to die. You do know that.”
Tendai swallowed. Yes, he knew it, but that was what warriors sometimes had to do. The important thing was to die for the right thing, with dignity.
“That’s right, little lion. I can see I made the right choice.”
An incident in the book that I like is towards the begging of their adventure, after they sneak out of the house. The children aren’t in the city for long; two men who work for a woman named “She Elephant” kidnap them. The two men (named fist and knife) take Tendai, Rita, and Kuda to dead man’s vlie, a dump in the middle of the city. It had been contaminated with toxic chemicals more than 100 years ago.
The She Elephant makes them change into rags (so she can sell their good clothes and other items they had), and then she has them work for her doing jobs like mining for plastic. The children tried to run away, but the vile people (there are probably thousands of them) who work for the She Elephant enclose around them and get them back to the She Elephant.
One day Tendai is stuck doing a job that he hates, but one plus is that he isn’t chained to a block of cement-like the other jobs. This is because he is in an underground chamber that is pretty close to the surface, but it only is connected to two tunnels: one leading down to a pool of water and another going up to the air (the She Elephant sat in a chair blocking the second exit). The She Elephant starts to get drunk like she usually does (from some fiery alcoholic drink she makes called kachasu) and she asks Tendai to fetch her some water.
He takes his time and sits down to rest. He knew that if he took too long, the She Elephant would beat him, but she might fall asleep. And then rage for freedom struck him. He rubbed his hands against the walls of the chamber to quiet his nerves. Then he feels something hard under the soil. He almost thought it was a rock, but then a patch of white caught his attention.
He dug it out of the dirt and washed it in the pool. To his astonishment, it was a ndoro. Ndoros were worn by spirit mediums. Modern Spirit mediums wore ones made of porcelain. But there were really old ones that were made from the shell of a sea mollusk, which had always been extremely rare.
This one was formed of a heavy spiral of white shell and had a hole bored at the center to allow it to be hung around the neck. For the rest of the book, when Tendai is in a tough situation, he prays or asks the ancient ndoro what he should do. And it always helps him. A long time ago, it belonged to an ancestor, and Tendai always thanks and prays to the unknown ancestor for helping him.
Soon after he finds the ndoro, he finds out that the She Elephant is planning to Sell Tendai and his siblings to the Masks, the only gang left in Zimbabwe after General Matsika took over. He stood there in the chamber holding the ndoro not knowing what to do. Then, a light shines over the water, and reveals a flat stone under the deep water.
Tendai could get up onto the stone and then climb up the shaft above the water (it probably used to be a well). It was very coincidental because the sun probably only shines at the right angle to get into the well once a year. It takes a lot of hard work, but Tendai eventually climbs up the well and goes to inform Rita and Kuda of what he heard their fate might be. Eventually, this leads to the three children running away from the She Elephant, and they succeed. But their adventures aren’t over yet.