Wilbur Smith has long been one of the world’s most popular authors. Although he has published many books, five in particular have captured my imagination and I have read them all many times.
His first novel, When the Lion Feeds, is set in the wilds of Africa in the late 1800’s. Set around the lives of two brothers, Sean and Garrick Courtney, it follows their escapades from a young age. From growing up on a rural cattle property, it explores the hateful relationship that develops between them and the very different lives they lead.
This book is a masterpiece and arguably his best work. Although fiction, the Courtney brothers are involved in many historical events such as the discovery and subsequent burgeoning of the city of Johannesburg. The description of the lives of men who made and lost their fortunes here is incredible really, fiction or not. Smith must have meticulously researched this era of Africa’s history, including the gold mining process as it was at the time.
Smith is very well known for his description of the African countryside and its animals. A section of the book is set in the wilderness and follows Sean as he learns to hunt elephant.
Perhaps the most captivating aspect of this book, and probably all of his books, is the characters. Their interaction and personalities are so well developed that it is impossible not to think of them as real people.
‘The Sound of Thunder’ is a follow on from ‘When the Lion Feeds’ and again picks up the story of the Courtney Family, concentrating on the lives of Sean and Garry. Whilst this novel was not as well received as ‘When the Lion Feeds’ it is still an excellent read.
The Boer war features heavily in this book and circumstances force Sean to seek his fortune in other areas other than ivory and gold mining.
There is more emphasis on character relationships, but there remains plenty of action and adventure.
A series of three novels written by Smith beginning with ‘Birds of Prey’ remain my favourites. Once again, the Courtney family is the centre of attention, but this time Smith takes us back a century or two, from the late 1600’s to the late 1700’s. The first two books, ‘Birds of Prey’ and ‘Monsoon’ focus on the Courtneys, all Englishmen to the core. Described in both are epic adventures of voyages made across the oceans to the continent of Africa and England’s war with the Dutch.
‘Birds of Prey’ describes Captain Francis Courtney’s journey to Africa and his run-ins with the Dutch. His son, Hal, is a member of the ship’s crew. Smith’s obvious attention to detail regarding ships of the time, weapons and England’s relationship with the other great seafaring nations of the time is brilliant.
‘Monsoon’ is the second novel in the series. Hal is head of the Courtney family now and, whilst still living in England, the opportunity arises for him to once more sail to Africa and deal with a problem befalling the East India Trading Company, a company with factories and trading posts all over the world. Hal has three young sons to contend with, all of whom take different paths in life, some willingly, some less so.
‘Blue Horizon’ is the last (at this time anyway) of the three novels. The Courtneys have established themselves as successful traders in the Dutch colony of Good Hope at the bottom of the African continent. Two of Hals sons have since had their own children and this book describes their lives and the increasingly strained relationship between the Courtneys and the Dutch authorities.
Even if such boyhood sounding adventures are not your usual literary choice, do not be discouraged. Smith’s writing style and his knack for keeping the reader constantly engaged with the story will ensure you are thoroughly entertained.
I have only mentioned five of Smith’s books. He has published many, all very well researched and spanning time from ancient Egypt to modern day Africa. I have read all Smith’s books and have enjoyed every one; some more than others, but all are very entertaining and difficult to put down.