In his other multi-novel series, Smith continues to use Africa as his central backdrop. The year is 1860 and slave trading remains a key form of commerce amongst Europeans and those in the Americas. After missionary Fuller Ballantyne has gone missing on the African sub-continent, his two children join a clipper out of England to find him. Robyn Ballantyne is a missionary like her father, but also has a medical background, both areas of education she wishes to bring to the African people. Her brother, Morris ‘Zouga’ has little interest in anything other than the riches that the land can bring him. While on their voyage, the Ballantynes learn that their captain is key in the slave trade and will stop at nothing to continue this prosperous form of economic advancement. Robyn does all she can to sway the captain, while she falls in love with him, to no avail. It is only when she encounters an ally in Clinton Codrington that she feels she could end slave trading on a small scale. Codrington finds himself falling for Dr. Ballantyne, who begins the arduous task of locating her father. As Smith forks the story, both siblings begin their own adventures searching for Fuller Ballantyne and discovering the riches that Africa has to offer them. Zouga finds himself involved in ivory hunting and gold exploration, but soon discovers a figurine that fulfils a long-held prophecy. Robyn does all she can to save those herded up for slavery and seeks to bring word of Christianity as she gets closer to Codrington. Fuller’s discovery opens new pathways as Smith educates and entertains the reader in the first novel of the series. When Codrington puts his passions into action, he faces consequences, but is keen to win Robyn’s heart no matter the cost. Contrasting nicely with the Courtney novels, Smith opens new literary options with this parallel series.
The differences could not be more profound between the Ballantyne and Courtney series, at least based on this opening novel. This novel does another wonderful job illustrating the wonders of Africa, from its people to the animals scattered throughout, but also tackles key issues brought about with colonization, including excessive hunting, slavery, and misunderstanding of the tribal ways of life. Smith does weave a strong social commentary into the story, sometimes bluntly offering up an opinion, but also firmly rooting his ideas in a detailed narrative. The reader should enter reading this book with both an open mind and one ready to learn, as there is much to absorb in the complex narrative. Exploring African from the eyes of settlers rather than the settled, Smith will be able to tackle a series of tales from the opposing side from those offered within the Courtney novels.
Kudos, Mr. Smith for this enlightening novel, which paves the way for what will surely be a highly entertaining series.