Smith continues the final collection of Courtney novels, developing some of the early ancestry of the family he has made famous in nine previous novels. The novel opens with an adult Hal Courtney, who has taken up a life as a farmer in rural England. Courtney has four sons from a few marriages: William, twins Tom and Guy, as well as Dorian. These boys have their own quirky characteristics, which are exemplified throughout the novel. When the English summon Hal to take up a nautical voyage to contest an Arab pirate who has been plundering ships, the elder Courtney seeks the assistance of his sons, who have been told of their fathers many voyages from years before. Tom and Guy find themselves in love with the same woman, though she is unable to admit her love for them because of her caste in life. When Guy agrees to a mission in India, he follows the woman he loves, causing grief for the other twin. William, much older than his other siblings, also refuses the mission, choosing to continue his life in England, where he is fostering business and political contacts. This leaves Tom and Dorian, who become the central characters in the novel and whose lives prove fundamental. While on the high seas, Dorian and Tom help their father seek out the Arabs, but trouble befalls the ship and Dorian is captured by the Prince of Oman, who takes him back to his settlement off the African coast. Dorian’s appearance echoes a prophecy in Islam, leaving the settlement to believe he is a direct descendent of Muhammad. While in captivity, Dorian meets one of the Prince’s daughters, Yasmini, in whom he develops strong affections. This forbidden love is discovered and the Prince banshees Dorian to death for incestuous behaviour. He is able to escape with Yasmini, though the Arabs in the settlement choose to deem him dead and erect a tomb to substantiate the story. Meanwhile, Hal suffers a horrific fate, leaving Tom in charge of the English ship. The search for Dorian continues, though when Tom is convinced his brother died at the settlement, he agrees to stop looking. Years pass and Dorian has become extremely acclimated to the Muslim way of life, which does not bode well when Tom Courtney returns to finish the mission on which Hal was originally sent. Facing off, Tom and Dorian must fight for their respective honours, where only one side can prevail. Smith tells a powerful tale that develops the multi-generational flavour of the series and plants plots that are sure to be developed in novels to come. An interesting addition to the Courtney saga.
As with the previous novel, the nautical flavour of the story left me less than enthralled, but the theme was not lost, nor was the character development built throughout the narrative. Smith effectively keeps the political and social actions of the day at hand as he develops a wonderful story that spans years and sees his sons grow into their own personalities. The battle of the twins over one woman foreshadows the storyline of Sean and Garrick Courtney in the first collection of novels, which will likely also play a role in future novels, should the child be raised in India under Guy’s tutelage. The ties and animosity developed throughout this novel between Tom and Dorian will play an interesting role in upcoming novels, especially as they head to the African continent. One other aspect worth noting is Smith’s use of the Muslim pirates as the central enemies of the novel. While the book was penned at a time when Muslim fundamentalism began to emerge as the new ideological war in the world, Smith is able to use this clash at a time when the high seas were the ultimate battleground. How nice to see this spin on the hero-aggressor storyline that does not include mention of al-Qaeda or suicide bombers. The subtle discussion of the religious beliefs and tolerances exemplifies that the seventeenth century was also a time when Christianity battled Islam and both tossed ‘infidel’ monikers on one another, while surviving together. Smith’s trademark use of Africa as a backdrop also comes to pass in small part throughout the novel, which will soon develop into a major setting for future novels, as the Courtneys settle on the continent and begin making a name for themselves.
Kudos, Mr. Smith for another interesting novel. Perhaps settling in Africa will allow the characters to make roots and settle, leaving seafaring storylines off the starboard side.