Storm Tide (Courtney #20), by Wilbur Smith with Tom Harper

Eight stars

It is always a pleasure to return to the world of the Courtney family, especially when Wilbur Smith is the literary tour guide. In this twentieth novel in the Courtney series, Smith tosses things back to the late 18th century once more, as the American War of Independence looms, as well as some other topical adventures for the current Courtney to face. Full of history, drama, and just a little humour, Wilbur Smith proves that he is one of the greatest historical storytellers I have read. A return to greatness after some lacklustre collaborative work.

It’s 1774 and Rob Courtney is still coming into his own. Having spent much of his life along the east coast of Africa, Rob knows little of the exciting life that awaits him on the open seas. He decides to put his dreams into reality after a death in the family and sets off aboard a ship for England, with only a family heirloom to accompany him.

Rob discovers that life in Africa is but a speck of what is going on in the world. He finds himself. lapping up a life of adventure, though soon comes to understand that dreams cost money and he is soon to run out. With an offer to join the British Navy, Rob finds himself back on the open waters and sailing towards the American colonies, where an uprising is beginning to make things quite tense. It is then that Rob Courtney finds true adventure, following in the steps of his ancestors, who never turned away from danger and risk.

Arriving on colonial shores, Rob begins fighting to keep Britain in change, while being seduced by the beauty of a woman who wants to show him how gracious she can be. As Rob gets more ensconced with the battle, two distant relatives emerge on the other side of the fight; young men who will stop at nothing to toss off the yoke of British rule. Rob’s eyes are soon opened up to many new perspectives when he sets sail for other parts of the Americas, including the importance of freedom and that love cannot always follow societal rules. A stunning addition to the Courtney series, Wilbur Smith does well with a little help from a secondary author.

I remember discovering the wonders of the Courtney family years ago, as Wilbur Smith was setting the groundwork for some of these other novels. The stories were always rich with history, social revelations, and stunning narrative development. Smith has not lost his gusto, adding depth to the pieces all these years later. I can only hope there are a few more to come, as they surely capture the reader’s attention and force them to think a little harder.

Wilbur Smith has tackled some of the thorny issues related to African colonisation and how the white minority wrestled with their role generations ago. In this piece, the story looks not to colonisation, but rather the slave trade and uses some strong narrative pathway to express how things were back in the latter part of the 18th century. Smith keeps things on edge with some wonderful characters, each of whom play an important role in telling how things progressed, while using historical events to keep the reader connected with fact. Plot twists throughout with some detailed discussions of societal norms force the reader to remain attune with what is going on, as they piece together much of what Smith has expressed in past books over a handle of generations. Long live the Courtneys, which Wilbur Smith seems keen to do!

Kudos, Mr. Smith, for another great piece. Keep them coming as best you can!

Legacy of War (Courtney #19), by Wilbur Smith and David Churchill

Eight stars

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.

Having followed the Courtney saga for many years, I was overjoyed at the release of another novel. While Wilbur Smith has been using the assistance of other authors over the past while, the books are usually still of high caliber. With the Second World War ended, the most everyone is breathing a collective sigh of relief. However, it is still a time of and for change. Not everyone in Germany is happy with the new divided country. Additionally, there are rumblings of independence along the African continent. Smith and David Churchill bring readers another great piece in this long saga, providing much for the reader to enjoy throughout.

As the world is still coming to terms with the end of the Second World War, there are a number of truths that cannot be ignored. The largest of which is that German dictator Adolf Hitler is finally dead and Europe can relax, to a degree. While the Nazis are no longer a threat, Europe has been taken over, in a sense, by the conflicting ideologies of American capitalism and Soviet communism. Saffron Courtney surveys things from London and is relatively pleased. Her husband, Gerhard, is free from a concentration camp, and they can focus on their connection once more. However, Konrad von Meerbach, Gerhard’s brother with strong affinity for the Nazis, seeks to regain power and bring a new wave of national socialism to his native land.

While all this envelops Europe, the African continent is becoming more boisterous. The colonial empire has developed cracks, particularly in Kenya. There, the locals have begun trying to drum up support for a complete overthrow. Their current target are those who are sympathetic to the British. Blood will flow and that is sure to cause issues for the Courtney family, all the way up to the patriarch, Leon. As Kenya balances on the precipice, the Courtneys must wonder what the future holds for them in the country of their forbearers.

When Konrad arrives in Kenya to pay a visit to Gerhard and Saffron, it is anything but cordial. He has a plan and wants nothing other than to instil fear. Could a simple visit begin a chain of events that leads to Gerhard’s demise once again? With Kenya less than stable, there are many factors that could easily cause issues for all involved. The Courtney family is in serious trouble and Saffron may be the only means by which things do not completely unravel. A nice addition to the series that proves there is still something left to explore in this series, which has entertained for over a generation.

While I was quite late to the party when it came to the Courtney series, I loved the early novels that spun wonderful tales of mystery across the African continent. However, as Wilbur Smith aged, he chose to partner up with others, sometimes lessening the impact of the novels and diluting what has been a strong Courtney saga. David Churchill appears to do well in complementing Smith’s work, keeping the 20th century series alive and well. At least that’s something series fan can look forward to with this piece.

Saffron Courtney does well as a protagonist in this piece, offering the reader some great insights into how to handle living in both Europe and Africa. The story uses her experiences on both continents, as well as some historical events that developed in the background. Saffron reminds readers of the richness of the Courtney family over the decades, as well as her own personal growth. There is some wonderful character development to be had and series fans will likely enjoy how all the pieces have come together.

Smith and Churchill have used a strong collection of supporting characters as well, all of whom enrich the story in their own way. Be it the rise of independence in Kenya or the residue of Nazi support in Germany, those who grace the pages of the book prove highly entertaining for the reader. There is a lot to cover in the book and these secondary characters do well to keep the reader on point throughout.

As it relates to the overall story, I found myself enjoying parts of the book and seeking to skip over others. There is a definite richness in the narrative, particularly as it relates to historical events, pulling the reader in and keeping the story on a strong pathway. However, there are other times when things appear to drag and left me wanting to hit the ‘turbo’ button to get back to the action. The character development and richness of the Courtney saga cannot be ignored here, as those who have followed the collection have come to know. All that being said, this is not a book (or a series) that can be started at any point. There is too much backstory that emerges to ‘catch up’ in a single book. With short to mid-length chapters, the authors keep the book moving and the action growing. There’s much to discover for the curious reader, even if the writing style and delivery can sometimes not match the traditional Wilbur Smith approach.

Kudos, Messrs. Smith and Churchill, for another instalment of this strong series. While I may not like all of them, I have come to enjoy the ongoing drama!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Call of the Raven (Ballantyne #0.5), by Wilbur Smith and Corban Addison

Eight stars

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

Taking the daring task of setting the scene with a prequel to one of his most popular series, Wilbur Smith collaborates with Corban Addison to create a stirring tale set in the 1840s. Before the Ballantyne family rose to notoriety, Mungo St. John was a young man with ambition and intelligence, studying in England. There, his family’s slave ownership soured many young men and Mungo finds himself trying to defend the possession of others. When he returned to America, Mungo discovers that slave owning is the least of his problems, when his family’s land is foreclosed upon and everything seized by a greedy man who all but killed the elder Mr. St. John. Included in the seizure is a young slave woman, named Camilla, someone Mungo holds in very high regard. As Mungo seeks to regain his family name and rush away from some of the trouble he has caused, he lies and changes his name to earn a spot on a ship sailing for Europe. Little does Mungo know the true purpose of the ship, or the horrors that await when he arrives on the other side of the Atlantic. Back in Louisiana, Camilla and many of the other slaves are moved to a cotton plantation, where they work to the bone by a ruthless slave owner, one who enjoys exerting much of his power over the women. He fancies Camilla and takes her as his own, only to leave her feeling used and abused, before she discovers that she is with child. Trying to use the pregnancy to keep herself alive, Camilla finds that she can do much more, given the opportunity and sly skills that she has acquired. When Mungo discovers that he is in the middle of a slave trading ship, he tries to hold his own, only to find himself in the middle of a rebellion on the trip back to America. Not wanting anything to do with the captain and crew who have employed him, Mungo does little to help them and saves his own life, but just. He vows that he will one day bring honour back to the St. John name and find Camilla, if only to see if they still have a chance to be happy. One more trip, under his own captaincy, to Africa sees Mungo St. John attempt a new life as a trader, this time of goods. Mungo does all he can to stay focussed, but he cannot shake that he must find and free Camilla, once and for all. The clash will be great and the risks high, but Mungo St. John is a man of his word and one who will die to ensure honour is kept. An interesting story that held my attention more than many of the other flashback tales in this series. Smith’s work continues to impress and I am glad to have taken the time to read this piece. Recommended for those who enjoy the Ballantyne series, as well as the reader whose interest in pre-Civil War America and nautical tales is high.

I fell under the spell of Wilbur Smith a number of years ago, particularly when I discovered his two series set in somewhat modern Africa. The stories were so full of adventure and discovery that I could not put them down. While he continues to build upon them, his extending the family tree sometimes went a little too far back for my liking. Smith discusses wanting to lay some groundwork for one of his minor characters in the Ballantyne series, Mungo St. John, in response to the request of many readers. Mungo was a highly controversial man who has a soft side, should one be able to find it buried under a lot of the other layers. He is an interesting man with much to prove and a great deal of passion. This emerges throughout the piece, as he is put into many situations he may not always enjoy. That being said, the reader can learn much about him in this piece, from his gritty determination through to his desire to make all things right. He may harbour a violent side, but he is also highly protective, which comes in handy on occasion as well. Others who find themselves complementing Mungo do well throughout this piece, as Smith and Addison add depth to the story with their supporting characters. Giving the reader some context about the time, these characters paint wonderful stories (though not always positive ones) about the time when slavery was waning in Europe but still going strong in America. The story itself was well paced and developed effectively for the time period. It held my attention for the most part, though did not offer up too many new nuggets of information about which I was not somewhat aware. Smith’s intention to lay some of the needed backstory and groundwork is done with ease and anyone entering this series will have many of the needed tools to find themselves fully ensconced before long. I look forward to more from Smith and his various collaborators when the chance arises.

Kudos, Messrs. Smith and Addison, for this wonderful piece of writing. I can only hope the Ballantynes continue to develop for as long as there are ideas to put to paper.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

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:

King of Kings (Courtneys and Ballantyne #2), by Wilbur Smith and Imogen Robertson

Seven stars

In their collaborative effort, Wilbur Smith and Imogen Robertson offer readers the latest instalment of the Courtney and Ballantyne saga, taking the story back to the African continent in the latter portion of the 19th century. Situated in and around Cairo, Penrod Ballantyne has tossed away the love of his life for the wily actions of a two-bit whore, or so the story goes. He has been up to his old tricks and remains one step ahead of the law, smearing the names of anyone who crosses him, particularly when he is in the opium dens scattered throughout Egypt. Meanwhile, Ryder Courtney is hard at work trying to mine as much of the metal as he can find, having secured permits to dig around Ethiopia. However, there would seem to be someone trying to stop his progress, as the ship carrying his supplies inexplicably explodes. Convinced that there is much to be done, Courtney and his family remain committed and work with the locals to find new ways to bring about a successful venture, all while Ethiopia enters a new era of politics and tribal control. The Italians have laid claim to the land and are making the country their protectorate, while the local tribesmen are coming to terms with a new leader, the King of Kings, who has promised not to abandon the fight for autonomy. Caught on both sides of the fight, the Courtney and Ballantyne families seek to make their mark on the African continent, particularly its northern territories, while living a life their European ancestors could not have imagined. Smith and Robertson do well in this piece, even if I was not entirely captivated by the writing or plot. I’ll leave it to other fans of this extensive series to decide if they want to add this one, as I have a somewhat lukewarm reaction to it.

I remember how enthralled I was with the early novels in both the Courtney and Ballantyne series, even as they blended together at one point. Of course, that was when Wilbur Smith had full control of the writing and the plot development. Granted, he has aged much and likely cannot keep up with all the advances in the writing process, but I have seen a significant lessening in the impact of the novels since secondary writers have shared (read: controlled) the writing process. It could be that things are not as sharp or that people are just not as attuned to Smith’s nuanced style, but I will admit this was one reason that I was not fully committed to the novel. Ryder Courtney and Penrod Ballantyne each have their own backstories and have enriched the pages of this piece with their adventures. Contrasting significantly, one is a strong and powerful force while the other seems more interested in flitting from one cause to the next, without setting down roots. The reader will likely find themselves connected to one or the other, which creates an interesting banter throughout the novel and will do well as the series continues to advance. Others grace the pages of this book to offer the two protagonists some direction and personalises them, though I could not grasp onto the secondary characters enough to feel it saved the novel from being tepid. The plot was decent and Smith always uses known history as a backdrop, but I needed more to keep me fully committed. Gone are the days of the original series, where strong characters dominated the pages, though they do pop up from time to time. In a set of series that tend to take checker-like jumps in time, it is had to get the full chronological view of either family. Perhaps once Wilbur Smith and his collaborators lay down their pens for the final time, I will have to return and read the entire series in order to get the full impact of the stories being spun!

Kudos, Mr. Smith and Madam Robertson, for a valiant attempt. I may be in the minority, though I do not discount the abilities that either of you have!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Courtney’s War (Courtney #17), by Wilbur Smith and David Churchill

Nine stars

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:

On Leopard Rock: A Life of Adventures, by Wilbur Smith

Nine stars

Master storytelling and international bestselling author Wilbur Smith takes a break from his adventure novels to offer the reader a snapshot into his personal life. Having penned this memoir of sorts, Smith explores his life, both as a young person in Rhodesia and his eventual success as an author. Having grown up on a large swath of land, young Wilbur learned the important of farming and protecting the livestock. His father instilled in him the need to always be on the lookout for predators, particularly of the animal variety. Smith shot his first lions (three in one event) as a child and used these skills to ensure he was never left unprepared. While his father was stern and happy to hand out needed punishment, Smith’s mother nurtured him and introduced a love of reading. This would continue into his boarding school years, where older prefects sought to break him down, but Smith took his punches and escaped into a world of fictional lands whenever he could. Diligent academics saw him earn a spot in university and eventually as a tax assessor, a menial job that numbed his mind, but left Smith much time to write. While his first novel left him with nothing but a slew of rejection letters—enough to paper the walls of his first flat—Smith did not give up, writing about about he knew. This led to an adventure all about the African subcontinent’s coming of age in an era when war was carving up vast lands. By the time Smith sent When the Lion Feeds to his agent, he was hopeful that all his thoughts had finally made a difference. In 1964, the novel caught the eye of many and began his passion with writing. An instant success led Smith to churn out more novels about the region, which added to his highly popular Courtney Series and thus began a passion for reading. Smith explores how his personal experiences influenced the narratives of his novels, but that they were entirely fictitious, never seeking to communicate covert messages or provide him with a soapbox for political and social views. The more he wrote, the deeper his passion grew and soon Smith was developing many novels with deep themes that touched him in a part of the world under horrific racial divide. Apartheid and white minority movements in South Africa and Rhodesia fuelled a number of Smith’s novels, though the success he found in their publication permitted him to see other parts of the world and thereby pen new pieces based on these experiences. As the reader is swept up in the narrative, Smith explores his love of Egyptology, sailing, diving, and hunting, all of which found their way into his vastly popular pieces. Anyone with a love of Wilbur Smith’s novels should not let this piece slip by, as his stories offer much to explain some of the rationale behind his popular novels. Highly recommend to anyone who enjoys biographical pieces or Africa in general, as they will walk away with much more than they might have suspected.

I caught the Wilbur Smith bug a few years ago and have been hooked on the Courtney and Ballantyne series ever since. I often wondered what gave him these ideas and how they came to pass so fluidly. Also, being the attentive reader than I am, I had to know why there was such a gap between Courtney novels and what might have helped pull Smith back into writing them. All of these answers can be found within the pages of this quick to read piece. Just as in his fiction writing, Smith develops a narrative that flows so smoothly that the reader will be shocked to see how much they can devour in a single setting. Smith may not write in an entirely chronological manner, but the themes that emerge can be easily stitched together to give the reader a clear picture of the larger story that Smith seeks to portray. It was somewhat disheartening to see Smith dismiss his previous marriages and children, as though they were a distraction to his passion of reading. However, there may be more of a story behind them, one that is not yet ready for public consumption. Additionally, in his closing chapter about writing and the passion he has for it, there is little to no mention about his handing the reins of the Courtney series over to others, who have helped to dilute the stories and lessen their quality, something that might turn new readers away from looking to the start of both series. These were thoughts I had hoped would be recounted in detail when the memoir was before me, but I am left wondering still. I did take much away from this piece, which filled in more gaps than it left. Wilbur Smith truly is a masterful writing and I will try my best to continue reading his work—as well as delving into the Egyptian series—as long as he has an idea to convey.

Kudos, Mr. Smith, for such a detailed piece. I learned a great deal and it has helped me develop an even greater appreciation for you as a man and author. I hope many of your fans will take the time to find this book, as it enriches the reading experience.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

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.

War Cry (Courtneys # 14), by Wilbur Smith (with David Churchill)

Eight stars

Building on his multi-generational Courtney family saga, Wilbur Smith crafts a new story that shifts focus on the Kenyan-based group, led by Leon. After the tragic death of his wife, Leon is left to raise his precocious daughter alone. Saffron Courtney’s determination and refusal to let anything stand in her way shows how much of the family blood flows through her veins. Sent to study at a reputable boarding school in South Africa, Saffron learns the ropes as Leon tries to resurrect Courtney Trading, which had been paralyzed by the global downturn of the Depression. Working with his three brothers, Leon pitches an idea to turn things around, leaving at least one with a sour taste in his mouth. In an alternate storyline, the reader learns of Gerhard von Meerbach, who grows up in his brother’s shadow and has yet to fully accept the new Nazi regime that has taken Germany by storm. The reader is reminded of the von Meerbach family’s ties to the Courtneys, which was fleshed out fully when last Smith wrote about this wing of the family. As both Saffron and Gerhard grow older, they cross paths and soon find a connection that would stir up many emotions in their respective families, though about which both young characters are temporarily unaware. As the winds of war begin to blow across Europe, the Courtneys and von Meerbachs choose their sides, though both families have porous aspects of their familial foundations and support leads both clans to find the traitorous blood. Saffron shows that she is determined to craft an Allied victory through any means necessary, putting country before her own safety. Gerhard is also willing to show a softer side, though it might cost him his freedom and eventually his life. Using the African continent as a backdrop and some of the regional battles as a historical narrative, Smith is able to forge a story rich in delivery and yet devastating in its discussion of the War. Smith’s continuation of the Courtney saga is fortified by a wonderful narrative and well-developed characters, pulling on the lush fruits of this complex family tree. Well suited for readers who are familiar with the entire Courtney series, but equally as entertaining for anyone who picks the book up to begin the magical journey.

I was happy to have secured a copy of this latest book in the series and even more impressed that its focus was in the 20th century. I have found that Smith’s additions to the series are weaker the further back in history the story delves, while the closer to the central South African storyline proves most effective. Smith has been able to effectively weave the story of this large family by branching off and building on loose threads left in the narrative, without losing the impetus for the larger story. As with many of his tales, Smith has a wonderful handle on the narrative and use some strong characters to tell the story of love, history, and determination. As Smith tends to be constantly crafting his Courtney series, it would be helpful to focus on one direction (time era), permitting the reader to better understand what to expect. While this might be an editorial decision, bouncing from 17th century adventures on the high seas to this powerful Second World War tale proves to be a ‘stop-start’ in the reader’s ability to understand the flow of the story. I find it harder to develop a bond with characters if I have to wait eight years to see them again (as in this story and the last time we met Leon, etc). Perhaps I pine too much for the ‘series one and two’ Courtney stories, where there was a significant build-on of the characters, always moving forward. By the time ‘series three’ arose, we were bouncing back in time and trying to hash out some of the ancestral aspects of the family, thereby losing the momentum that Smith had so effectively developed. Smith leaves some great storylines unfinished and there is hope that future novels might address this. I can only hope that Smith will continue to control the stories, though I have come to see that he has contributors and authors who have taken over writing for him, which lessens the impact of the larger Courtney saga. One can hope that more generations emerge, enriching the experience both for the reader and Smith personally.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for a great addition to the series. I can only hope that you have a few more ideas in mind, especially in the latter generations of Courtney family members.