Wilbur Smith has to be one of the very top names in adventure fiction. From his early book THE MERCENARIES (renamed from the original title THE DARK OF THE SUN) about the mercenaries fighting in the Belgian Congo, he has written both modern day stories and historicals with verve and skill.
Of all his books, many readers will be familiar with his fabulous Courtney family stories, starting with WHEN THE LION FEEDS and THE SOUND OF THUNDER. This series took the history of Africa and drew its inspiration from its excitement and fierce passion. Telling the stories of the bolder characters (and the felons) from that period, Smith crafted some of the most brilliant novels of the last forty years.
GOLDEN LION is no different. This book takes the Courtney family back to the East African coast of the 1670s, and young ‘Hal’ Courtney.
His father is dead, the war with the Dutch is over, and his letters of marque have become worthless. Now, no longer a privateer, Hal is seeking peace. He intends to take his wife and his fortune back to England. There he should be able to enjoy the fruits of his and his father’s efforts in peace.
But the luck of the Courtneys means that his route will be dogged by his enemies: especially by the man known as The Buzzard, from the leather cap with the beak that he wears to conceal the hideous disfigurement that he won when he was burned almost to death in a fire.
This is just the sort of book that Smith has been writing for so many years, but astonishingly it was written ‘with’ the excellent Giles Kristian, famous for his own Viking and English Civil War novels. I think that ‘with’ must mean pretty much ‘by’, and yet the writing is very much in Smith’s style, which makes me wonder whether Smith himself had more to do with it than I first thought.
This book opens with a shocking scene in which The Buzzard is kept alive after the horror of his near-death, and from that moment it does not let the reader go. We are taken to mangrove swamps, to Zanzibar’s slave auctions, to the palace of the ruler, to the bars and brothels, and to the ships. The brutality and horrors of seventeenth century Africa are laid bare, as well as the corruption and acquisitiveness of the Europeans who travelled there.
In short, this is a rollicking, enthusiastic, brilliant adventure that will keep all Wilbur Smith – and Giles Kristian – fans occupied for hours.
Personally, as you may have guessed, I’d rate this one as highly recommended.
Michael Jecks writes historical and crime fiction and is a founding member of the Medieval Murderers. His latest book, Blood on the Sand is out now.