First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Wilbur Smith, David Churchill, and Bonnier Zaffre USA for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.
After a few novels in the Courtney saga proved to be complete duds, I was pleased to see Wilbur Smith team up with David Churchill and returned things to the 20th century, where the series has flourished. In the Spring of 1939, young love is blossoming between Saffron Courtney and Gerhard von Meerbach. Highly educated and politically savvy, both Saffron and Gerhard can feel the tides turning in Europe and anticipate the Nazis will begin their push through Europe, triggering another massive war. After spending time in Paris, these young lovers must part, vowing to find one another as soon as possible. Fast-forward to 1942, where Saffron Courtney is deeply embedded into ‘Baker Street’, a covert group led by a handful of British spies. Her goal will be to infiltrate the National Socialist movement in Belgium and the Netherlands, with hopes of learning Nazi news that can be fed back to the Allies. Meanwhile, Gerhard has become a valuable asset to the Germans, working in the air during the Battle of Stalingrad, shooting down any Russian plane that dares get too close. During one flyover, Gerhard sees some of the atrocities being done to large portions of the Jewish community, only later learning that it is the Final Solution ramping up. Vowing to himself to bring down the Nazis, Gerhard must carefully destroy the political machine without being caught, with a brother who is fully engaged in the Nazi movement and smells a rat. As Saffron returns to the African continent to help build her backstory, she spends some time with family and renews old acquaintances, only to be pulled away and sent to Belgium. Her actions may not be as covert as she hoped, but she can hope to remain one step ahead of the Germans hunting her down. With the War reaching its climax, both Saffron and Gerhard will have to work hard to return Europe to its proper course, though Nazis are ruthless and are happy to scrub out anyone who does not respect the Reich’s power. Brilliant in its delivery and full of wonderful storylines, Smith and Churchill show that this is one saga to which dedicated readers can return with pride. Recommended for those who love the Courtneys in all their glory.
It was a difficult decision to choose this book, having been so disheartened by some of the recent novels in this saga. That said, I had to tell myself that those novels that took things onto the high seas many generations ago were part of a sub-series that never caught my attention. With some of my favourite characters and 20th century history mixed together, I knew that Wilbur Smith (alongside his writing companion, David Churchill) should get the benefit of the doubt. This is a return to the great Courtney stories and the reader should find it easy to glide into the comfort of familiar names (had they read much of the previous novels) while finding the plot riveting and eager to comprehend. Saffron Courtney remains a strong, independent woman who, even though she is madly in love, finds little issue with remaining grounded and able to make snap decisions. She has become a powerhouse character in previous novels and only grows more likeable and independent-minded here. Her tactics will likely have the reader cheering her on as she makes her way through early 1940s Europe in an age where women were still not given their due. Gerhard von Meerbach proves to be as interesting as he is cocky, though some of that is surely a ruse as he hides within the Nazis in order to bring them down. He is strong-willed, as is seen throughout and particularly in the last segment of the book, always hoping that he will be reunited with the woman he loves. While there may be an imbalance in that love between the two characters, the reader can surely feel the connection throughout the parallel plots as they develop. The story itself is strong and uses Second World War history and some of the less familiar angles to keep things from becoming too predictable. Saffron’s seeking to penetrate the Nazis is as intriguing as it is unpredictable, while Gerhard seems more passive in his attempts to weaken the military might for which he fights. The handful of worthwhile secondary characters do well to push the story forward, particularly as to go to either support or suppress our aforementioned protagonists. I can only hope that the reader will see some of the vilification that I did throughout the book, from actual Nazi officers as well as those who support National Socialism in other domains. The narrative kept a good pace, giving the reader action throughout. However, with unnumbered, lengthy chapters, some segments seemed to stretch out without that literary breath that invigorates a stellar story. Let’s be glad the Courtneys are back in fine form.
Kudos, Messrs. Smith and Churchill, for returning the Courtney saga to its rightful place with a strong novel. I can only hope this will continue, as you boasted, Mr. Smith, in your recently published memoir that you loves this series with all your heart.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons