Birds of Prey (Courtney #9), by Wilbur Smith

Seven stars

Smith begins the final collection of Courtney novels with an interesting historical journey. Transporting readers back to 1667, the Anglo-Dutch naval war is at its zenith as Sir Francis Courtney and his son, Henry (Hal), sail off the coast of southern Africa. They await the Dutch ships, full of riches, headed back from faraway lands. As they hold letters of permission from Charles II, both Courtney men seek to act as privateers at a time when playing pirates on the high seas was completely permissible with ‘rape and pillage’ an accepted means of overpowering the enemy. After being double-crossed, Francis and his entire crew are captured by the Dutch and the elder Courtney is executed before his son. After being sentenced to a prison camp, the entire crew find a means escape, but only after learning the extent to the Dutch punitive measures. The crew choose Hal to lead them back on the seas. With loose connections to the Knights Templar, Hal sails the seas to avenge his father’s death and uphold the Templar traditions. Hal soon learns that leading a crew is more complex than he first thought and that protecting the innocent, particularly his fellow Christians, is death-defying. As Hal Courtney finds himself protecting Ethiopia from Arab invaders, the man’s true mettle comes to light, which has previously been exemplified by subsequent generations of Courtney men. Smith opens this collection of adventures in exciting fashion, leaving nothing to chance as he entertains his readers.

While this was not the most exciting of Smith’s novels, I must offer him much praise for this wonderful spin. He moves the Courtney name to its earlier ancestors, tracing their strength and determination through the skills Hal exemplifies throughout the novel. Races and swashbuckling on the high seas differs greatly from some of the past narratives, but it is this unique approach that keeps readers coming back. The attentive reader will enjoy a character or two, in hopes of their reemergence in subsequent novels. One can only hope Hal makes as indelible a mark as the likes of Sean and Centaine Courtney have in earlier novels.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for your diligence and attention to detail. I am eager to tackle more of Hal’s adventures and learn of those who followed him, as South Africa became so important to this family.

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