Life in the wilds of Natal in the 1870s is carefree for twin brothers Sean and Garrick Courtney until an illegal escapade with their father's shotgun ends in an accident in which, to Sean's undying shame and guilt, Garrick loses a leg. There has never been much similarity between the shy, awkward, studious Garrick and his devoted but flamboyant, headstrong brother, but now fate and the schemes of a bitter woman, drive them tragically apart. The Zulus are amassing, the settlers gather for war. At the crushing defeat at Isandhlwana, their father is killed, Sean is missing presumed dead, only Garrick returns. Faced with the desperate predicament of Sean's pregnant girlfriend, Anna, Garrick straightway marries her. But Sean escaped the massacre, and returns to be faced with Anna's insistent claims upon his love. Forcefully he rejects her, now his brothers wife, and in revenge she drives a wedge of misunderstanding and hatred between the brothers. Sean must leave. It is the early days of the gold rush on the Witwaterarand. Sean teams up with an Englishman, Dufford Charleywood, and with spirit, resourcefulness, some ruthlessness and a liberal dash of good luck, they build up an unimaginable fortune. The irresistible urge to bait their major rival Norman Hradsky, however, brings ruin -- and once again Sean; with Dufford and, as always, his devoted and brilliantly drawn companion, the Zulu Mbejane, sets off to find a new life and rebuild his fortune, hunting for ivory in the unmapped land to the north at a time when it was possible to trek for years without encountering another white man. The novel ends with the story of Sean's marriage to a young Afrikaner girl, Katrina, their idyllic life together and her fever and tragic suicide. Filled with action scenes in war and the early heady days of the gold rush, and adventure among the vast game herds of the African wilderness, this novel is dominated by the towering compelling personality of Sean, whose life story is continued in The Sound of Thunder and A Sparrow Falls.