Ghost Fire (Courtney #17), by Wilbur Smith and Tom Harper

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Wilbur Smith, Tom Harper, and Bonnier Zaffre USA for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having long been a fan of the Courtney series, I was pleased to see Wilbur Smith back with the seventeenth instalment. Working alongside Tom Harper, they trim back the family tree—or at least seek different branches—with another of the flashback novels that explores an earlier group of the popular family. Set in mid-18th century India, Theo and Connie Courtney have grown up as British subjects in the East India Company. When fighting breaks out, a proxy theatre of the Thirty Years War, Theo and Connie are left to fend for themselves after their parents perish. After Theo and Connie have a falling out, the former joins the fight to quell the local uprising, while Connie finds herself captured and detained. Theo’s friendships on the battlefield to keep Calcutta from falling lead him to make a promise to one of his comrades. When the dust settles and presuming that Connie is among the dead, Theo sails for the Thirteen Colonies, where he delivers news of a man’s death. With nowhere else to go, Theo connects with the locals and begins a new round of trials and tribulations. Meanwhile, Connie is well and saved from her Indian prison by a soldier who wishes to take her to France. However, her keen eye and attention to detail works well for Connie, who sets foot on French soil with a story of being a widow. She injects herself into French society as best she can, while Theo is across the world, also brushing shoulders with the French, though for completely different reasons. As Courtneys, they have gumption and while they may not admit it, there is a fire within them to survive, no matter what is put before them. In a tale of blood, fighting, and perseverance, Smith and Harper use this interesting flashback novel to bring their point home In this series that has seen much ebb and flow throughout its development, this one remains relatively strong. Fans of the series may enjoy this one, though it is sometimes hard to become enthralled with an era that differs greatly from the original series.

I have long enjoyed the work of Wilbur Smith, though this is the only series of his I have read (save, the intertwined Ballantynes). His attention to detail and wonderful characters are second to none and they fly off the page, enticing the reader to learn more about them, no matter the time period covered. In this piece, Smith and Harper develop both separate and intertwined narratives for the two protagonists. Theo Courtney is full of the energy of his ancestors and descendants, wanting to fight for what he feels is right. His split from his sister is partially pig-headedness and partially passion clouded in anger. As the narrative progresses, the reader can see how Theo uses all that is before him to make the most of the experience, though he is prone to finding trouble. By contrast, Connie seems happy to let life lead the way, though she is by no means a helpless damsel. Her independence is muted by the time, though she remains cunning and finds ways to get what she wants, through both her mind and with her own looks. Many of the other characters offer interesting perspectives throughout the novel, complementing the protagonists throughout. While this era is not one that I enjoy in this series, I must applaud Smith and Harper for keeping things interesting and on point. I struggled at times with the narrative, though was able to pick-up on the poignant parts that kept the narrative moving forward. Rich with history and told in numerous locales, the story rises above some of the other books in the series to keep the reader curious until the final pages.

Kudos, Messrs. Smith and Harper, for a decent addition to the series. It may be that the era is not of interest to me, but I can surely see a great deal of potential within the pages of this novel.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Tiger’s Prey (Courtney Saga #16), by Wilbur Smith and Tom Harper

Three stars

Wilbur Smith brings Tom Harper along with him to create the latest in the Courtney saga, returning to the high seas of the 18th century. Tom Courtney is the son of the master seafarer, Sir Hal Courtney. The entire Courtney clan are well known for having control of the seas and have planted many deep roots, especially along the African continent. Tom is rumoured to have turned on members of his family to save his own honour and is rumoured dead. This is the narrative that young Francis Courtney holds close to his heart. When the last remnants of his family are killed, young Francis goes in search of Tom, hoping to discover if he truly has been killed. If not, he will undertake to complete the task and ensure his own father did not die in vain. Francis discovers Tom is alive and well, though has been keeping a low profile in South Africa. Francis lets his bluster get the better of him and Tom is prepared to turn the tables on this young Courtney. Instead, they agree to work together and set sail for the East Indies, sure to find adventure during the journey. What follows is a collection of storms on the high seas and interactions with other swashbucklers as Tom and his crew seek assistance when they arrive on shore. With Francis at his side, Tom engages the locals in more adventure than any man could handle… any man but a Courtney. Limping through to the end, the reader will be lucky to keep their bearings in this addition to what might be the weakest of the three sagas, that of the seas. Many pardons to readers of the review, as I will be the first to admit, my summary of the story is poor, hampered by not being able to connect with the piece, as discussed below.

I have long had an issue when an author passes away or ‘retires’ and another takes over the reins of a series. Many a collection of books have gone down the drain when the original creator no longer has control of their master work. Wilbur Smith’s turning the Courtney series over to others has been a recipe for disaster and yet books continue to be published. Having devoured all of Smith’s past Courtney saga novels (attributed solely to him) and loving them, this was yet another let down for me. One must be careful where to point fingers. It might be Harper trying to slide into the massive literary footprint or the fact that I am not a fan of the ‘Courtneys on the seas’ branch, but this book grabbed me as effectively as marble tossed on a Velcro wall. There was obviously some character development and action peppered throughout, but I just could not find myself grasping onto what was going on. It may also have been that the story was not adequately divided into chapters, choosing instead to be a single blob of writing that continued to flow from page to page (or for us audio listeners, minute to minute). I felt myself lost and without any form of help as I tried to push through this book. The sole redeeming beacon ended up being that the book ended and I could move on to something else. Alas, I feel that my reading the saga may finally have come to an end. I have little interest in continuing if Wilbur Smith feels that he must allow others to trifle with his work. Surely, he has lost that burning desire to create high-caliber work and only seeks the royalties for something that has his name plastered to the cover.

Oh, Messrs. Smith and Harper, how you have disappointed Courtney series fans with this. I hope many readers will not use this book as a benchmark for the entire series, which has had moments of brilliance.