WARNING: This review contains spoilers.
The Prey, boasting a striking front cover, was sitting on the dining room table when my brother asked me what it was about. I replied, ‘Mining in South Africa.’ He told me the cover was ‘too cool’ to be about something as simple as that. He was right.
This novel is about more than just mining for gold. Tony Park gives readers a wonderful glimpse of Africa and its beauty, whilst leading them through the danger and excitement experienced by employees of Global Resources, a mining company based in Australia. Cameron McMurtrie, recently divorced, runs the Eureka mine in a town called Barberton. His unhappy life reaches a turning point when the leader of the pirate miners, known as the zama zamas, takes one of his engineers as a hostage. Cameron’s boss, Kylie Hamilton, flies over from her head office in Sydney to quell the threat but instead, they are forced into a dangerous fight to keep the company and themselves alive.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the novel was the first chapter of each of the five parts. The author tells the story of a bird living in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve on the border of the Kruger National Park. Independently, these one or two page chapters are rather simple, but after a closer examination, you will find that the story of the pel’s fishing owl mirrors that of the main characters. For example, as Part Four begins, the owl and his family have finished their evening meal. Then a heavy wind gust causes the branch on which they have built their nest to snap and their home falls to the ground. Similarly, at the same time, Cameron and Kylie are finally gaining a true understanding of their situation when their aeroplane is mysteriously blown out of the sky. At first I wondered why the owl’s stories were included. When I began to see the subtle connections, I realised that while they offered an intimate opportunity to experience the African setting even further, they also added to the depth and intrigue of the plot.
One of the most important literary devices in a writer’s toolbox is to show rather than tell. Tony Park delivers a perfect example of this at work through Kylie’s entrance into Africa. As a business executive, Kylie arrives in South Africa wet behind the ears. She assumes that the safety standards and mining procedures used in Australia will apply all around the world. Gradually, though, without ever being told that she is changing, readers can see an obvious transformation based on her thoughts and her feelings. She begins to realise that in Africa, where danger is never too far away, sometimes you have to break the rules just to survive.
There is no scientific term for a fear of the underground but if there was, I would have it! As I read The Prey, I could feel the suffocation and despair experienced by the hostages. I hated the zama zamas. I could feel the dust in my eyes and I couldn’t see my hands in front of my face. The author’s intense yet brief descriptive passages made me feel like I was in a place that I didn’t want to be, yet at the same time I needed to know that the characters were safe. The chapter by chapter jump in perspective was unsettling but once you found your perspective, the moderate pace of the novel was very satisfying. There is just enough action to keep impatient readers (like myself) hooked and a predictable romance also offers plenty of drama. The recurrent use of native tongue was a nice touch, giving the book an extra degree of authenticity and making it the perfect Christmas present.