Heu-Heu, or The Monster is one of the 14 novels that the great H. Rider Haggard wrote that deals with the life of Allan Quatermain, an English hunter in South Africa. This is a stand-alone novel. Unlike the first two novels in the series, King Solomon’s Mines and its sequel, Allan Quatermain; the so-called Zulu trilogy (Marie, Child of Storm and Finished); and the loosely linked series of books that I like to call the Taduki quartet (Allan and the Holy Flower, The Ivory Child, The Ancient Allan and Allan and the Ice Gods), Heu-Heu can be read all by itself, and without any previous knowledge of the Quatermain universe. Yes, references are made to previous adventures and characters, but they are passing references at best, explained as they are brought up, and would in no way unduly confuse a reader new to the Quatermain cycle.
This time around, Allan and his sidekick, the faithful and always amusing Hottentot Hans, go on a mission for the Zulu wizard Zikali (himself featured in many of the previous Quatermain books) and endeavor to bring back some leaves from the rare Tree of Illusions. They also attempt to delve into the mystery of Heu-Heu, a monstrous, 12-foot-tall, clawed and red-bearded semi-gorilla god who may or may not exist. As is usual with Haggard, Heu-Heu starts off with a great action set piece (the mother of all storms, in which our heroes are forced to seek shelter in a creepy Bushman cave), and from there moves swiftly and excitingly.
Haggard was a master storyteller, even in his twilight years (this book was written in 1923, two years before his death), and this novel gives fans all the goods that they’ve come to expect from him. Before all is said and done, we have been treated to an exciting desert crossing (not as harrowing as the one depicted in King Solomon’s Mines, perhaps, but still fun … for the reader, that is), a petrified ancient civilization, a monster flood, a volcanic eruption, and a canoe chase on a raging river. Haggard was also the master (if not the originator) of the “lost civilization” tale, and in Heu-Heu we are treated to two such: the Walloos, a people on the decline who worship the giant ape god, and the Hairy Ones, who are more ape than man and may even constitute the fabled Missing Link. Typically, the Hottentot Hans provides most of the comedic relief, and saves the day on more than one occasion. Allan Quatermain, no slouch himself in the action department, admits in this book that he would long since have expired without the resourcefulness of this amusing little character. The two combined make for one of the best action duos in the history of adventure-fantasy literature.
All in all, Heu-Heu, while perhaps not on a par with some of the other Quatermains mentioned above, is still an exciting tale that should provide most red-blooded readers with a few nights of thrills and laughs. Like ALL the other books in the Quatermain cycle, I heartily recommend it.