The Flamming Sword, by Dilibe Onyeama, Delta Publications (Nigeria) Limite, Enugu, October, 2019
Penning down The Flaming Sword, for Dilibe Onyeama, turned out not to be a cakewalk afterall. Almost “40 tortuous years” had to flit by before the 548-page could grace the bookstands. And this was a project he had thought he could simply wrap up in just four months after he had started it in 1979 in London! Of course, he had a good reason to think so. The renowned author 28 books, albeit mostly non-fiction works, had prior to embarking on the new venture written such best-selling novels as Juju, Secret Society, Revenge of the Medicine Man, Night Demon and Godfathers of Voodoo, which explored the potency of African magic.
On his latest book, which became his 28th, he recalled having to tear up the manuscript about 20 times and rewriting it countless times “pruning, cancelling, revising, putting it away repeatedly for months on end, and then reading and re-reading – to a point … when I fell like abandoning the whole project altogether and burning it out of existence.”
Eventually, The Flaming Sword was published in volume book form in October, 2019. What a relief to witness the denouement of his long-drawn-out endeavour! “Before the rights of the book were secured from Transworld by Delta Publications (Nigeria) Limited in 1985, following my return to Nigeria finally in 1981 after a 22-year residence in England, the prospects of a huge book cash bonanza had loomed in London in 1979,” he explained.
He had struck up a friendship with one Mark Barty-King, a London-based America publishing leading light, whose interest in his writings on African magic was more than a passing one. “With my novel Godfathers of Voodoo sold, written and accepted by Transworld, I was toying with the idea of putting together a voluminous blockbuster of a novel that would depart from the racy, down-market popular theme that I had been churning out and address more serious contemporary issues.”
The whole point, he added, was “to present the potent of African magic in a more credible light for serious study, especially in its deployment for evil purposes to secure material benefits. The stealth and intangibility of juju magic, when deployed in the somewhat ‘rarified’ atmosphere of London as the headquarters of a former great empire with a ready-made culture of refined peace that had no room for undesirables, would triumph with devastating consequences over well-entrenched English scepticism that drew its strength from scientific experiment.”
Thus, the novel is almost exclusively set in London, the last place on earth a reader would expect to encounter such undesirables. Its entire plot pivots on the sexual indiscretions across many off-shore lands of the English aristocrat Colonel John Chapman.
In the first of the novel’s two prologues, the reader is first introduced to the famed ballerina Wendy Salaun, who loses her train ticket and is compelled to request the monetary assistance of an obliging African gentleman, nicknamed Nutty, who was waiting for the train on the platform of an underground station. The author inveigles his grasp of the racist culture of the British establishment with the words: “a gentleman of colour sitting – in a most inappropriate situation of black irony, Wendy thought, – near racist graffiti scrawled with red crayon or lipstick on the wall above his head – NIGGERS AND ASIANS OUT…”
This curious weaving of fate triggers a series of other dramatic developments that let the reader into the dark inner recesses of Wendy’s mother Maria’s private life. Her daughter’s encounter with a total black stranger in such fortuitous circumstances has an unsettling effect on this woman, who happens to be a celebrated watercolour artist.
Maria, as the eldest child of the disreputable Colonel Chapman, inherits a vast family fortune that is vigorously challenged with horrendous fatalities. Her incestuous relationship with her cousin Jamie in their youth lifts the lid on her tragic condition as a host for offending spirits. Thus, the reader finds her torn between the extremities of a dual personality that one moment brings on a nymphomaniac craving for the pleasures of the flesh and the next moment a hideous loathing of her successful male lovers – several of whom are killed by the telepathic effects of her murderous rage, while one is crippled for life and confined to an armchair with the inexplicable disease of rheumatoid arthritis.
It is her reckless liaison with the latter, a rich Jewish rabbi called Benjamin Salaun, that resulted in her daughter Wendy.
Wendy is horrified to learn that her mother had killed her father in a fit of rage. Her confidant, her uncle Jamie Matthews, with whom her mother had engaged in an incestous relationship, is a high-powered lawyer with whom Wendy shares many unspeakable secrets and from whom she enjoys protection from the spectral forces that are devastating their lives. Together, they investigate the chilling secrets of ‘The Probate Puzzle’ that seem to lie at the core of the mysterious challenges unsettling their lives.
Things begin to unravel when Nutty later comes into the picture. Nutty, a sensational dancer of provocative African drum-beats, possesses the awesome power of sex-by-meditation in his mission to secure a vast fortune through diverse applications of African magic.
But Nutty’s beautiful lady friend, Fiona Richmond, witnesses his application of magic, which defies sound human reasoning.
The Flaming Sword, through the subtlety of its complex but compulsively readable plot, springs surprises on the unsuspecting reader and sets the stage for the emotions that drive love, conflicts and treachery.