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The year is 1667. Sir Francis Courtney and his son Hal are on patrol in their fighting caravel off the Agulhas Cape of South Africa. They are lying in wait for one of the treasure-laden galleons of the Dutch East India Company returning from the Orient. so begins a quest for adventure and the spoils of war that sweeps them from the settlement of Good Hope at the southern t The year is 1667. Sir Francis Courtney and his son Hal are on patrol in their fighting caravel off the Agulhas Cape of South Africa. They are lying in wait for one of the treasure-laden galleons of the Dutch East India Company returning from the Orient. so begins a quest for adventure and the spoils of war that sweeps them from the settlement of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa to the Great Horn of Ethiopia far to the north - at a time when international maritime law permitted acts of piracy, rape, and murder otherwise punishable by death. Wilbur Smith introduces a generation of the indomitable Courtneys and thrillingly re-creates their part in the struggle for supremacy and riches on the high seas. From the very first pages, Wilbur Smith spins a colorful and exciting tale, crackling with tension and drama, that builds and builds to a stunning climax. Packed with vivid descriptive passages of the open seas, breathless pacing, and an extraordinary cast of characters, Birds of Prey is a masterpiece from a storyteller at the height of his powers.


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The year is 1667. Sir Francis Courtney and his son Hal are on patrol in their fighting caravel off the Agulhas Cape of South Africa. They are lying in wait for one of the treasure-laden galleons of the Dutch East India Company returning from the Orient. so begins a quest for adventure and the spoils of war that sweeps them from the settlement of Good Hope at the southern t The year is 1667. Sir Francis Courtney and his son Hal are on patrol in their fighting caravel off the Agulhas Cape of South Africa. They are lying in wait for one of the treasure-laden galleons of the Dutch East India Company returning from the Orient. so begins a quest for adventure and the spoils of war that sweeps them from the settlement of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa to the Great Horn of Ethiopia far to the north - at a time when international maritime law permitted acts of piracy, rape, and murder otherwise punishable by death. Wilbur Smith introduces a generation of the indomitable Courtneys and thrillingly re-creates their part in the struggle for supremacy and riches on the high seas. From the very first pages, Wilbur Smith spins a colorful and exciting tale, crackling with tension and drama, that builds and builds to a stunning climax. Packed with vivid descriptive passages of the open seas, breathless pacing, and an extraordinary cast of characters, Birds of Prey is a masterpiece from a storyteller at the height of his powers.

30 review for Birds of Prey

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lizzy

    Alas, I did not learn something essential or scholarly in any way by reading Birds of Prey. I might not have helped me understand history or comprehend anything fundamental to my life, but I would say that reading Birds of Prey was fun and allowed me hours of enjoyable and dashing adventure within Wilbur Smith’s well written story. All in all, it is a great pirate story set on east coast of Africa in the 1600's. The author appears to know his sailing (of which I am totally ignorant, but there is Alas, I did not learn something essential or scholarly in any way by reading Birds of Prey. I might not have helped me understand history or comprehend anything fundamental to my life, but I would say that reading Birds of Prey was fun and allowed me hours of enjoyable and dashing adventure within Wilbur Smith’s well written story. All in all, it is a great pirate story set on east coast of Africa in the 1600's. The author appears to know his sailing (of which I am totally ignorant, but there is great care to give the reader elements of nautical life and ship terminology), his history, and as always is a world-class storyteller. The plot is fast and includes a journey on the high seas, the hunt of deadly pirates, moves into the vast African continent with the final escape from a Dutch prison. Everything not without its pitfalls. The true beginning of the Courtney saga, even though it is #9 in the series. I really enjoyed this book. Wilbur Smith excels in this kind of storytelling and, most important, in creating likable characters and detestable villains. Recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Rating: 3* of five Wilbur, Wilbur...yours isn't the stuff of literary legend, but usually you buckle a *mean* swash and cause images of Erroll Flynn to dash around your reader's head (thanks for that, BTW). In this book, Wilbur, you lost your way. I don't expect autheticity of language, and don't even WANT it, in books set in the 17th century. But sometimes I felt I was watching a mini-series dumbed down for a TV audience as I read this installment of the generational saga of the Courteneys. Plent Rating: 3* of five Wilbur, Wilbur...yours isn't the stuff of literary legend, but usually you buckle a *mean* swash and cause images of Erroll Flynn to dash around your reader's head (thanks for that, BTW). In this book, Wilbur, you lost your way. I don't expect autheticity of language, and don't even WANT it, in books set in the 17th century. But sometimes I felt I was watching a mini-series dumbed down for a TV audience as I read this installment of the generational saga of the Courteneys. Plenty of buckles are swashed, it's true, and the hated Dutch East Indiamen are suitably hateful, but things were...foreshortened, somehow. Could it be the Courteneys are beginning to pall in your interests? I haven't read Assegai, the most recently published of their family saga which is set in WWI times, and now I wonder if I should. This isn't the Smith to start with. If anyone wants to know what the fuss he's made over the years is about, start with The Sunbird. "Fly for me, bird of the sun...." *snivel* Still makes me mist up. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jim A

    The true beginning of the Courtney saga, even though it was written well after the other Courtney books. Swashbuckling adventure on the highs seas, moving to the African continent and escape from Dutch prison. A chase across South Africa and retribution against those who betrayed the family. I thought this was an excellent story.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mark Hennion

    Please don't let the 3 stars fool you: I enjoyed this book. More specifically, I enjoyed the story. Wilbur Smith excels in performing perhaps the two most important elements of fiction─ creating likable characters and detestable villains. The trouble I had was with execution. Birds of Prey has an uneven feel; the first third of the novel unfolds at breakneck pace with great care given to explaining to the reader elements of nautical life and ship terminology. All of this is done quite necessarily Please don't let the 3 stars fool you: I enjoyed this book. More specifically, I enjoyed the story. Wilbur Smith excels in performing perhaps the two most important elements of fiction─ creating likable characters and detestable villains. The trouble I had was with execution. Birds of Prey has an uneven feel; the first third of the novel unfolds at breakneck pace with great care given to explaining to the reader elements of nautical life and ship terminology. All of this is done quite necessarily, and at times the obvious is given despite a character knowing full well what the omniscient third-person narrator provides (i.e. "Hal watched the X, knowing full well that Y would happen. Y would happen, of course, because Y was related to X"). These incursions are excusable, if not clumsy distractions. As for the emotions of the characters... Smith confuses me. In one moment, a captivating rendering of some geographical feature or clash of swords will be told with expert precision. When I skimmed the blurbs, the evasive language used to praise Smith's prose said things like "superlatively evocative." Hmm. But take the following gems: "Some picked out Hal's virile broad-shouldered figure and shouted unintelligible invitations to him, making their meanings plain by the lewd gestures that accompanied them" (p. 505 Hardback). Or "They took comfort from each other, and drew on a mutual reserve of strength and determination" (p. 533 Hardback). For me, this sort of lazy writing violates rule no. 1 in the author's handbook: show, don't tell. At times, the telling IS necessary (mizzenmast? top gallant?). For basic human emotions and descriptions? We established the primary character Hal Courtney is a youth in the prime of his life. During an extended captivity, we hear endlessly about how his youth is shed and his muscular development while working in the quarry. Yet, the endless repetition of his "startling green eyes" and "virile" self grow tiresome. Fast. In the novel Hal has nothing short of four lovers, with the first a crucial piece of plot development (a captive held governor's wife-turned-villain) being the loss of his virginity and his self-condemnation for violating his father/order's commandments of personal conduct. Once past that, women swoon over Hal effortlessly. Two fall in love with as little encouragement as astrological predetermination and watching him in action. We're treated to countless descriptions of their nipples, pubic hair, and brazen tells of "swooned with affection" and so on. I am new to the genre of what my librarian termed "men's fiction," or "men's historical fiction" and I am unfamiliar as to whether these conventions are exclusive to Smith or the genre as a whole, but as a reader I feel that there is only so many "dark berry nipples" that a 550 pages book can contain. Sex with a concubine as per the customs of a deep African tribe for an honored guest? Showing us the tribes/customs, and a crucial plot point (she warns Hal of pending execution as a result of his "fierce spear" or some such). But a female general who gloriously leads a counterattack to achieve unprecedented fame for her people resigning her station to be with Hal? COME ON! What Smith does expertly achieve is the reader's hatred of the antagonists. Although quite heavy handed (250 pages of torture, slavery, and escape plan), I did find this book unputdownable. Moreover, when Hal and entourage do escape, the reward was absolutely great. Never does Smith betray what is presented and there are quite a few twists and turns that are unexpected─character deaths, injuries, and so on. With this said... The villains in this book are heinously so. I employ the term villain only because after a few hundred pages I began to equate the captors as cartoonish villains, complete with only entirely evil/"not good" motives. The malevolent governor's wife manages to condemn, extort, extort-with-rape, and listen raptly to the executioner's tales of torture. She is also impossible to resist, as that every single character in the entire novel falls heedlessly in love with her, no matter how far her antics go. The payoff is rich, and Smith has penned a truly enjoyable tale that I almost feel would work better as an action film. With some careful pruning (nearly every description of a naked woman, a person of color, and so on), this book would serve as a manual for how to write tense action. I intend on reading Monsoon, the book's sequel, as soon as I can endure another 550 pages of torturous action. Truly, I was in those cells with the protagonist, no matter HOW long the sequence endures. 3 1/2 stars.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Thom Swennes

    At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the small country of The Netherlands spread its sails, to become a major world trade player. With the establishment of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, Holland was soon equal with England as king of the seas. This and other internal, external, and political differences lead to a total of six Anglo-Dutch Wars, spanning intermittently between 1652 and 1810. The Second Anglo-Dutch War, from 1665 to 1667 saw an expansion of hostilities far from Eur At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the small country of The Netherlands spread its sails, to become a major world trade player. With the establishment of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, Holland was soon equal with England as king of the seas. This and other internal, external, and political differences lead to a total of six Anglo-Dutch Wars, spanning intermittently between 1652 and 1810. The Second Anglo-Dutch War, from 1665 to 1667 saw an expansion of hostilities far from Europe. A large naval force is expensive to build and costly to maintain. In peacetime, such a force proves to be a constant drain on any government. The solution to this quandary was the issuance of Letters of Marque and Reprisal. These documents were issued to privateer captains, essentially giving them permission to attack any antagonistic vessel, port, town, or city. The booty gained is such an adventure is shared between officers, crews, and the issuing government. Many of these privateers served as traders in times of peace. Sir Francis Courtney, as captain of the Lady Edwina, has traveled to the southern-most tip of Africa in search of enemy swag and booty. Armed with a Letter of Marque, signed by King Charles II of England, Sir Francis searches for a rich prize courtesy of the United East Indian Company. The Second Anglo-Dutch War is in full swing and the capturing of the Royal Charles and successful attack by the Dutch Fleet under Admiral Michiel de Ruyter is still painfully fresh in English memory. Henry Courtney, Sir Francis’s only son, accompanies him on this endeavor to the far sides of the earth. The Lady Edwina is infested with sea worms and can break up in any strong storm. Her replacement comes when the Dutch ship De Stanvastigheid (Resolution) is spotted. This is a master tale with everything a reader would want in a book. It is the ninth book in The Courtney Series and the beginning of an adventure you will never forget. I do recommend that reader’s read this book before the tenth book Monsoon. Although each novel stands alone, it does help with clarity. From England to seas and ports around the globe, eventually exploring the dark unknown depths of Africa, this book is the doorway to an epic. This is nothing short of a literary monument, researched and crafted by a highly talented and proficient writer. I recommend this book and this series to everyone, everywhere.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    A great pirate story set on east coast of Africa in the 16oo's. WS knows his sailing, his history, and as always is a world-class storyteller. What a crazy time that must have been, the age of colonial conquest. I may go back and re-read some of the others I have sitting around the house. A great pirate story set on east coast of Africa in the 16oo's. WS knows his sailing, his history, and as always is a world-class storyteller. What a crazy time that must have been, the age of colonial conquest. I may go back and re-read some of the others I have sitting around the house.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nate

    It’s a book about pirates/privateers double-crossing each other, duking it out with each other on land and sea, and doing other fun stuff with healthy doses of kinky boning and horrid violence. What’s not to like?! Seriously though, I was very impressed with my first book of Mr. Smith’s. All of the good stuff that historical fiction lovers like is here; lots of period detail, sightseeing, larger-than-life characters, historical context, and so on and so forth. I guess when it comes to publishing It’s a book about pirates/privateers double-crossing each other, duking it out with each other on land and sea, and doing other fun stuff with healthy doses of kinky boning and horrid violence. What’s not to like?! Seriously though, I was very impressed with my first book of Mr. Smith’s. All of the good stuff that historical fiction lovers like is here; lots of period detail, sightseeing, larger-than-life characters, historical context, and so on and so forth. I guess when it comes to publishing order this is like halfway through the Courtney family series but I always prefer to read by the in-story chronological order and this seemed to be the first Courtney tale. It kinda reminded me of L’Amour’s Sackett stories, but with glory holes (not a joke.) We follow our hero Henry “Hal” Courtney as he assists his father Francis on his quest to capture a Dutch East India ship laden with spoils somewhere near the coast of Africa. Soon the story branches out to include several point of view characters (all interesting, surprisingly enough) and becomes a full-blooded historical adventure with all kinds of chases, battles, romance, revenge, etc. Like I mentioned earlier, it’d be hard to find a hist fic box that Smith doesn’t check over the course of the 700 or so pages. Yes, this is arguably brick-sized, but it never dragged and I finished it surprisingly quick. There’s just always another fun scene of derring-do, lurid sex, or historical tidbittery lurking around the next corner. As I mentioned earlier, the characters were pretty much all interesting if not likable. Hal is a perfectly serviceable main character and his dad is a brave, stern hardass who’s easy to admire. Hal’s buddy Aboli is an awesome sidekick who could easily have been the star of his own novel. Sadistic black widow Katinka was captivating in the grossest way. Seriously, every time Smith (literally) had her thighs getting all slippery when she thought about dudes getting hung or tortured I had to shake my head in bewildered wonderment. What a woman! Colonel Schreuder was a very hateable douchebag but consistently entertaining. Slow John was a creepdick for the ages...imagine being consigned to a torturer whose first few months of action just consists of opening the slot to your cell door and staring at you. Blegh. I’m kind of wondering at this point why I slept for so long on Smith’s books as they are thoroughly entertaining and, if not classic literature, written well. He kind of reminds me of Cornwell but with a lot more sex (and obviously focused on Africa and not England.) Of course, the other side of the coin is I have like 50 more books to (potentially) enjoy. I’m very intrigued as to Hal’s further adventures but I’ve also heard from multiple sources that Smith’s Ancient Egypt epic River God is great stuff as well. Oh well, just more agonizing literary problems here in the first world to deal with. Woe is me. I heartily recommend this sizable piece of action to fellow historical fiction lovers, but just be warned that I really am not playing up the amount of times someone gets killed horribly or the dreaded beast with two backs makes an appearance, so if you don’t like that kind of stuff maybe just read a Cadfael book or somethin’.

  8. 5 out of 5

    K. Anna Kraft

    I wasn't all that happy with this book. I bought it because I'd read River God a long time ago, and I remembered really loving everything about it. However, here. . .I found myself wondering if I'd been remembering the right author. Another reviewer mentioned that this book came very late in the series and that Mr. Smith could be losing interest in the series, and that may be the case. While there is plenty of action in this story, the characters are often flat, unmotivated, and inconsistent. Th I wasn't all that happy with this book. I bought it because I'd read River God a long time ago, and I remembered really loving everything about it. However, here. . .I found myself wondering if I'd been remembering the right author. Another reviewer mentioned that this book came very late in the series and that Mr. Smith could be losing interest in the series, and that may be the case. While there is plenty of action in this story, the characters are often flat, unmotivated, and inconsistent. There are some moments that shine, but overall, I'd say River God was a better example of Wilbur Smith's talent.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David

    Excellent, by far one the best reads I've had in awhile. Its amazing how this novel can cover so many genre's and still be cohesive. There is Piracy, War battles, Swordsmanship, A Historical aspect, Adventure on the seas and the continent, Romance, and even an Arthurian legend thrown in. Even a Happy ending. It was Good from the first word to the last word. They say don't judge a book by its cover or its title, and maybe that is why i have overlooked it for this long. So check this one out, you won Excellent, by far one the best reads I've had in awhile. Its amazing how this novel can cover so many genre's and still be cohesive. There is Piracy, War battles, Swordsmanship, A Historical aspect, Adventure on the seas and the continent, Romance, and even an Arthurian legend thrown in. Even a Happy ending. It was Good from the first word to the last word. They say don't judge a book by its cover or its title, and maybe that is why i have overlooked it for this long. So check this one out, you won't be disappointed.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brian Durfee

    #37 BIRDS OF PREY by Wilbur Smith. Durfee's top 50 novels countdown. I've read all 40 of Wilbur Smith's African Adventure novels. *Warning* If you like animals DO NOT read a Wilbur Smith novel. Much bloody slaughter of African beasts in a Wilbur Smith. I also highly recommend RIVERGOD, MONSOON, and A FALCON FLIES. #37 BIRDS OF PREY by Wilbur Smith. Durfee's top 50 novels countdown. I've read all 40 of Wilbur Smith's African Adventure novels. *Warning* If you like animals DO NOT read a Wilbur Smith novel. Much bloody slaughter of African beasts in a Wilbur Smith. I also highly recommend RIVERGOD, MONSOON, and A FALCON FLIES.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mina Villalobos

    Err, I don't even know what to say about this book. For starters, I didn't know this wasn't the first book of the saga, so clearly I kind of just jumped in the Courtney's party and was a bit confused. Second, I did not foresee the amount of smut this book runs with. Not bad smut, really, just, woah, caught me by surprise the first few super raunchy scenes. There was one swash buckling battle followed by some raunch for the first hundred pages or so. The characters were pretty shallow as far as c Err, I don't even know what to say about this book. For starters, I didn't know this wasn't the first book of the saga, so clearly I kind of just jumped in the Courtney's party and was a bit confused. Second, I did not foresee the amount of smut this book runs with. Not bad smut, really, just, woah, caught me by surprise the first few super raunchy scenes. There was one swash buckling battle followed by some raunch for the first hundred pages or so. The characters were pretty shallow as far as characters go and our young hero not necessarily very charming -though we are induces to believe that he is, he kind of doesn't charm much out of you. I liked Aboli, his free man african king friend/caretaker. He wasn't more fleshed out that anyone else but I liked him anyway. So.. it was entertaining, and there was a lot of adventure, though it was a bit of slow reading because no character truly caught me so I didn't really feel like reading it. Was on the verge of dropping it a couple of times but I went on and in the end I can say I enjoyed it. Weird politics and raunch and battles and all. It was.. a book indeed.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    I never was big on pirate sagas. Until I read this book. None of that phony 'Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of Rum' Errol Flynn nonsense here! Smith is no genteel Victorian novel writer, although he's close enough to that genre to not forget to entertain his readers. Smith's feel for Africa and solid knowledge of the time this book is set in arent from research but from love of his subject. You can feel it all through the book. With Evil Characters like Katinka, the kinky Dutch wife of the Governor of Ca I never was big on pirate sagas. Until I read this book. None of that phony 'Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of Rum' Errol Flynn nonsense here! Smith is no genteel Victorian novel writer, although he's close enough to that genre to not forget to entertain his readers. Smith's feel for Africa and solid knowledge of the time this book is set in arent from research but from love of his subject. You can feel it all through the book. With Evil Characters like Katinka, the kinky Dutch wife of the Governor of Cape Colony and The Buzzard, a rival pirate as evil as you can get the story moves right along. You had better purchase 'Monsoon' at the same time so you wont have to wait to continue the tale. you wont want to stop.

  13. 5 out of 5

    David

    This was a bit … curious. Very much a slightly grown-up “Boys own adventure” book, it certainly wasn’t as good as some of the later books in the Courtney series. It does suffer a bit from falling into cliché, especially when it comes to the bad guys. Towards the end there was a very left-of-field twist that appeared, which I don’t feel worked very well (But I shan’t go into details in case of spoilering.) Overall I probably wouldn’t bother unless you really like this type of swashbuckling.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Debra

    Stephen King says: "BEST HISTORICAL NOVELIST. I say Wilbur Smith, with his swashbuckling novels of Africa. The bodices rip and the blood flows. You can get lost in Wilbur Smith and misplace all of August." Stephen King says: "BEST HISTORICAL NOVELIST. I say Wilbur Smith, with his swashbuckling novels of Africa. The bodices rip and the blood flows. You can get lost in Wilbur Smith and misplace all of August."

  15. 4 out of 5

    Natasa Tovornik

    Wilbur Smith is a great novel writter, does great reasearch and you cannot let go of the book once started to read. Birds of Prey is one ov the Courtney saga, but can be read as a stand-a-lone. One of my favourites.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alyssia Cooke

    Whilst I certainly enjoyed this novel, it has a definite tendancy to veer into the two dimensional at times and I found the descriptions of our young leads virile manhood tiring by the end. For a virgin, he certainly goes through his share of women. Maybe it's the sign of a 18 year old who grew up in male company, but it could certainly stand to be reduced. The pacing though is well done, and whilst nautical terms are frequently used, Smith successfully avoids becoming didactic in his approach. H Whilst I certainly enjoyed this novel, it has a definite tendancy to veer into the two dimensional at times and I found the descriptions of our young leads virile manhood tiring by the end. For a virgin, he certainly goes through his share of women. Maybe it's the sign of a 18 year old who grew up in male company, but it could certainly stand to be reduced. The pacing though is well done, and whilst nautical terms are frequently used, Smith successfully avoids becoming didactic in his approach. He puts his characters through absolute hell and you can't help but feel for them. He certainly writes a mean set of bad guys and there are characters here you will truly loathe.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Will G

    This is a swashbuckling novel set in the late 1600's around Africa. Lots of action around pirates, corsairs, heroes, villains, revenge and retribution along with a coming of age of one of the main characters. This is a fun read. This is a swashbuckling novel set in the late 1600's around Africa. Lots of action around pirates, corsairs, heroes, villains, revenge and retribution along with a coming of age of one of the main characters. This is a fun read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    L.M. Mountford

    Wilbur Smith has done it again, a thrilling roller coaster of a novel, full of adventure and action, and packed with characters you will either love or loath as it journeys along the African coast in a time when the world was a different, simpler place.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Johnston

    Never a dull moment.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Smith begins the final collection of Courtney novels with an interesting historical journey. Transporting readers back to 1667, the Anglo-Dutch naval war is at its zenith as Sir Francis Courtney and his son, Henry (Hal), sail off the coast of southern Africa. They await the Dutch ships, full of riches, headed back from faraway lands. As they hold letters of permission from Charles II, both Courtney men seek to act as privateers at a time when playing pirates on the high seas was completely permi Smith begins the final collection of Courtney novels with an interesting historical journey. Transporting readers back to 1667, the Anglo-Dutch naval war is at its zenith as Sir Francis Courtney and his son, Henry (Hal), sail off the coast of southern Africa. They await the Dutch ships, full of riches, headed back from faraway lands. As they hold letters of permission from Charles II, both Courtney men seek to act as privateers at a time when playing pirates on the high seas was completely permissible with 'rape and pillage' an accepted means of overpowering the enemy. After being double-crossed, Francis and his entire crew are captured by the Dutch and the elder Courtney is executed before his son. After being sentenced to a prison camp, the entire crew find a means escape, but only after learning the extent to the Dutch punitive measures. The crew choose Hal to lead them back on the seas. With loose connections to the Knights Templar, Hal sails the seas to avenge his father's death and uphold the Templar traditions. Hal soon learns that leading a crew is more complex than he first thought and that protecting the innocent, particularly his fellow Christians, is death-defying. As Hal Courtney finds himself protecting Ethiopia from Arab invaders, the man's true mettle comes to light, which has previously been exemplified by subsequent generations of Courtney men. Smith opens this collection of adventures in exciting fashion, leaving nothing to chance as he entertains his readers. While this was not the most exciting of Smith's novels, I must offer him much praise for this wonderful spin. He moves the Courtney name to its earlier ancestors, tracing their strength and determination through the skills Hal exemplifies throughout the novel. Races and swashbuckling on the high seas differs greatly from some of the past narratives, but it is this unique approach that keeps readers coming back. The attentive reader will enjoy a character or two, in hopes of their reemergence in subsequent novels. One can only hope Hal makes as indelible a mark as the likes of Sean and Centaine Courtney have in earlier novels. Kudos, Mr. Smith for your diligence and attention to detail. I am eager to tackle more of Hal's adventures and learn of those who followed him, as South Africa became so important to this family. Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lizzy B

    A gripping read of the high calibre i have come to expect from Smith. He effectively manages to create a plot out of his regular themes (such as romance, tragedy, family ties, war & battles, good vs. evil and adventure), using a touch of history while keeping a level of freshness, unexpected plot twists. (Quite how unexpected they are i will leave you to decide for yourself, since i am not blessed with the same ability to pre-empt plot lines as a few individuals i know - possibly because i get s A gripping read of the high calibre i have come to expect from Smith. He effectively manages to create a plot out of his regular themes (such as romance, tragedy, family ties, war & battles, good vs. evil and adventure), using a touch of history while keeping a level of freshness, unexpected plot twists. (Quite how unexpected they are i will leave you to decide for yourself, since i am not blessed with the same ability to pre-empt plot lines as a few individuals i know - possibly because i get so lost in the story i am incapable of critically reviewing and theorising about it!?) Set towards the end of the Dutch war with the British life at sea would appear a fine line between serving king & country and stepping into the throws of piracy. Yet again i love Smiths ability to paint pictures of Africa in his words, and create complex characters. As in all human experience, it is the interactions and the ties which make it interesting, be they the traditional ties of love, or ties of emnity after betrayal, or as is more normally the case, a mixture of the two - one transposing into the other. Follow young Hal (Henry) Courtney on his journey into manhood (another theme often reflected in Smiths writings), with all the life experiences, and complications he must face en-route in his journey to make something of himself rather than forever remaining the son of the captain.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    Very good for the genre, exciting and absorbing. The characters are thin and stereotyped. The main character starts out as a young teenager, horny and eager for adventure. He see horrible events and grows up to be a leader among men, etc. but the more he matures the less likeable he is. Some questions for the author: Hal has no problem marrying a Muslim Balinese woman--indeed, he doesn't even seem to realize that she is not Christian. But later in the book he seems motivated by pure Christian ze Very good for the genre, exciting and absorbing. The characters are thin and stereotyped. The main character starts out as a young teenager, horny and eager for adventure. He see horrible events and grows up to be a leader among men, etc. but the more he matures the less likeable he is. Some questions for the author: Hal has no problem marrying a Muslim Balinese woman--indeed, he doesn't even seem to realize that she is not Christian. But later in the book he seems motivated by pure Christian zeal more than anything else (well, there's still greed and lust but Christianity is up there too). Where did that all that religious fervor come from? What was going on earlier when he wasn't thinking about religion at all? Still, Hal is a lucky guy. By the end of the book he gets a girl who is both a sexy exotic African and Christian--jackpot. I am dishing out the snark for a reason here--Smith is a great writer of historical swashbucklers, but his biases are not very far from the surface. If you think about them too much, they may bother you enough to spoil your reading enjoyment.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen (itpdx)

    A swashbuckling adventure tale. An exotic setting--the east coast of 17th century Africa, a young, handsome, brave, bright hero under the tutelage of his strict but loving father with a loyal, strong, brave, wise indigenous side-kick, naval battles, sword fights, lions, crocodiles, hidden treasure, a secret society, an evil, implacable but honorable foe, a couple of slimy bad guys, a beautiful, high-born nymphomaniac to relieve our hero of his virginity—what could go wrong? All of the characters A swashbuckling adventure tale. An exotic setting--the east coast of 17th century Africa, a young, handsome, brave, bright hero under the tutelage of his strict but loving father with a loyal, strong, brave, wise indigenous side-kick, naval battles, sword fights, lions, crocodiles, hidden treasure, a secret society, an evil, implacable but honorable foe, a couple of slimy bad guys, a beautiful, high-born nymphomaniac to relieve our hero of his virginity—what could go wrong? All of the characters are one dimensional. They each can be summed up in one stereotypical sentence. Far be it from them to examine their actions, motives or themselves. And enough purple prose to cause the reader to occasionally throw the book down.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    Took me back to amy teenage years of reading when characters did not need to be fleshed out and adventures just keep happening on the seas. All I wanted was excitement then and apparently needed a dose of now. Back and forth across the seas around Africa, fighting both those on the Queen's side and those that are Dutch, loving and marrying twice, hiding booty and grabbing it up again, repairing ships, sailing them... It's all there. I didn't ask for more, not consistency, not plausibility, just Took me back to amy teenage years of reading when characters did not need to be fleshed out and adventures just keep happening on the seas. All I wanted was excitement then and apparently needed a dose of now. Back and forth across the seas around Africa, fighting both those on the Queen's side and those that are Dutch, loving and marrying twice, hiding booty and grabbing it up again, repairing ships, sailing them... It's all there. I didn't ask for more, not consistency, not plausibility, just an engaging tale.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Yet another great Wilbur Smith book that kept me turning pages. Smith's books generally follow the same formula, but his mixture of history, setting, and action really works. This entry is set during the 17th century and does a great job of using English, Dutch, and Islamic history to move the story. As always, the reader gets the tough as nails heroes, the lusty and attractive women, the bad guys who are always bad, and the all knowing African mentor. But like I said earlier, this really works Yet another great Wilbur Smith book that kept me turning pages. Smith's books generally follow the same formula, but his mixture of history, setting, and action really works. This entry is set during the 17th century and does a great job of using English, Dutch, and Islamic history to move the story. As always, the reader gets the tough as nails heroes, the lusty and attractive women, the bad guys who are always bad, and the all knowing African mentor. But like I said earlier, this really works for me as a reader and I will continue to read all the Smith books I can get my hands on.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mitch C.

    My first Wilbur Smith book, Absolutely loved it, the adventure the epic scope as well as the sincere emotion in which the reader is dragged through from overwhelming and desolate sadness to gloriously profound victory which is beset upon a wicked and harsh set of odds. I love the sea and anything involving pirates however this is the first book that's really captivated me as a reader into fully believing this story from back to front, I cannot wait until I get into the next one. My first Wilbur Smith book, Absolutely loved it, the adventure the epic scope as well as the sincere emotion in which the reader is dragged through from overwhelming and desolate sadness to gloriously profound victory which is beset upon a wicked and harsh set of odds. I love the sea and anything involving pirates however this is the first book that's really captivated me as a reader into fully believing this story from back to front, I cannot wait until I get into the next one.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shelee Bush

    ahhhh, Wilbur Smith...high seas junk food for the senses...loved it, page turner, awesome

  28. 4 out of 5

    SoulSurvivor

    Maybe 3-4 stars if I read it 50 years ago , at 15 !

  29. 4 out of 5

    Spencer Hawke

    THIS IS WILBUR SMITH AT THE TOP OF HIS GAME. I HOPE THE SOUTH AFRICAN TOURIST AUTHORITY HAS HIM ON THEIR PAYROLL. A GREAT TALE OF THE COURTNEY'S AND THE EARLY DAYS IN AFRICA THIS IS WILBUR SMITH AT THE TOP OF HIS GAME. I HOPE THE SOUTH AFRICAN TOURIST AUTHORITY HAS HIM ON THEIR PAYROLL. A GREAT TALE OF THE COURTNEY'S AND THE EARLY DAYS IN AFRICA

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dave Schulte

    A smokin' good tale of swashbuckling! A smokin' good tale of swashbuckling!

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