on 10 September 2004
Having read Wilbur Smith's books about Taita's adventures in Egypt (River God, Warlock and The Seventh Scroll) I'd got a taste for his exciting, descriptive and involving style of writing and I felt like I was at a loose end when I knew that 'that was it' for his Egyptian stuff.
Tentatively, I picked up Birds of Prey, and although it was a bit of effort to get into at first (I later discovered this book is in the middle of 'The Courtneys' series) I soon found I couldn't put it down and became a recluse for the next few days.
As with so many of Smith's books the clever story line follows surprising twists and turns at a furious pace, yet always stays descriptive enough to let you really experience what the characters go through, victorious elation, love, heartache, torture and gore..
I was never really a great fan of any adventures at sea, but THIS BOOK CHANGED ALL THAT. It got me hooked on the Courtney novels. Having since read the two sequels after Birds of Prey I've been unable to prevent myself from ordering the first three books in the Courtney series too. Once I've read those I'll probably re-read this one again and I'm sure I'll pick up on a whole lot of finer points and detail I missed in the excitement the first time around!
If you'd like to have the advantage of starting at the beginning of the series, they're listed here in order:
When the Lion Feeds
The Sound of Thunder
A Sparrow Falls
BIRDS OF PREY
on 27 August 2000
I have been an avid Wilbur Smith fan since the age of 14 when I first plundered the library for a copy of When The Lion Feeds.Since then I have avidly devoured all of his serialised novels and four of his other ones.The discovery that he'd gone back in time to the early roots of the Courtney(or should that be Courteney?)family had me breaking down the doors of the nearest book shop. Up till now we'd been used to the idea of members of the Courtney family fighting their battles in the jungle or in the boardroom,so having the new slant of seafarers in their earlier generations injected new enthusiasm into it. Wilbur Smith lays the innermost feelings and emotions of his characters bare and exposed for us to see.Even the restrained and dignified Sir Francis Courteney has feelings,as Smith reveals in his narrative without confusing the image that the other characters in the book have of him. The adventure unfolds over a period of years,taking Hal Courteney from a youth of 17,into his eraly 20's.In that time he experiences everything you could think of:lust,love,betrayal,comeradeship,adventure,etc etc etc.The sexual scenes are described with language more explicit than we are used to seeing in Smith's books,but I was left with the feeling that Smith was more focused on Hal's betrayer than his other lovers,who he really feels something genuine for.Perhaps Smith finds his female villains more captivating than his heroines;I know I do! If you can stomach reading a novel this huge,(554 pages in the hardback edition)then you won't be sorry for getting a copy of this.It has everything and does'nt really fit into any one specific genre because romance,adventure and any other subject you can think of,are covered in this one novel,more than they would be in any smaller,specialist book. Long may this author live and long may he keep writing material of this calibre!
on 26 April 2004
Birds Of Prey follows the Courtney family back about 300 years. It startswith an introduction to 17 year old Hal Courtney and his father SirFrancis aboard the ship the Lady Edwina. Sir Francis is a privateersailing under letters of marke from the king. He is betrayed by a brotherknight and cruelly tortured and executed. It is then up to Hal to savethe day, followed by his trusty friends Aboli, Ned Tyler and DanielFisher. Later his loves Sukena and Judith appear.
This is a wonderfulbook from Wilbur Smith. It is very long, but unlike so many other booksof this size, it keeps moving and every page has a new and excitingsituation to explore.
I only have 2 critisms of this book. The mostspecific is that the 'good guy' characters are just too perfect. It is atheme that runs throughout Wilbur Smiths books. In my opinion, they wouldbe all the more intreging if the good guys had a few flaws to theircharacters.
Like all his books, Smith is in his element when exploring the distantpast, rather than the more 'modern books'.
Am I the only one thatwould like to see him move out of Africa for a setting? Personally, Iwould love to see how Smith would handle a book set in Europe or theAmericas.
Still, a great book that had me hooked from beginning to end! Read it andfinish feeling like you have actually learnt something.
on 29 September 1999
I have devoured every word of the Courtney novels and was pleased to see that this book would look at the early roots of the family. Smith writes better about the past than he does the present and this is no exception. Never dull and always asking you to turn to the next page, Birds Of Prey is full of vintage Smith: violence, conflict, sex and rich detail. Whilst Smith's characters are always sterotypes we can relate to them and,in many cases,envy them. I can't wait to see how this series of Courtney adventures joins up with his earlier novels to from a 400 year history of the Courtney family.
on 21 October 2008
Have almost finished this book (50 pages to go) and have enjoyed every word written. This book is primarily centred around a seafaring story, a bit of a break from the traditional Smith storyline but this seems to embellish the enjoyment of the book rather than detract from it. All the Courtney series are exceptional in their own right and this one does not break the mould. Their are some great characters in here, with the usual characteristics of loyalty and bravery from the good guys, and absolute debauchery from the villains (Katinka is a case in point). Once again Mr Smith makes you run the gamut of all emotions, and I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I have deliberately not given any of the storyline away - trust me as a discerning reader and buy this book. You will not be disappointed.
on 20 October 2000
What an enjoyable read. True escapism, you almost feel the sea spray on your face and if you read this book on a train, the motion could lull you into to thinking your on the deck of the ship. School curricular would do well to think about using this text, leaving certain aspect's out, to enhance history lessons covering that period of time. My only regret is that I read 'Monsoon' which was the sequel, even so this was, again, most enjoyable.
on 29 October 1998
'Birds of Prey' is a great story which throws you onto the deck of Hal Courtney's ship and takes you for the ride of your life. Hal is a young man learning how to fight and win life's battles from his domineering father. You will be travelling with Hal from the very brink of destitution, up to the lofty peek of riches and glory, and back again once more. You can check out information on this great novel as well as over 20 other adventures at the Wilbur Smith Web Page.
In BIRDS OF PREY, it is the year 1667, and we are introduced to the 17-year old Englishman, Hal Courteney. Hal is a crewmember on his father's ship, the "Lady Edwina", as it sails the high seas off the southern tip of Africa. England is at war with the Dutch Republic, and the ship's captain, Sir Francis Courteney, has been given license by the British Admiralty to prey on Dutch trading ships of the United East India Company as they return to Amsterdam from the East Indies via the Dutch settlement at the Cape of Good Hope. Sir Francis captures a Dutch ship carrying the newly appointed Governor of Good Hope and his wife, Katinka. During the period when the Governor and his wife are held for ransom, Hal loses his virginity to Katinka, a sadistic, treacherous, highborn slut. (Well, good breeding isn't everything.) Subsequently, Sir Francis, Hal and the rest of the Lady Edwina's company are betrayed by a former ally, the Scottish Earl of Cumbrae, with the help of a former crewmember, Sam Bowles, and imprisoned at Good Hope. Sir Francis is brutally tortured and executed. Hal and a handful of survivors later escape, acquire another ship, and go on to defeat their primary tormentors, Cumbrae and a Dutch army colonel named Schreuder, against the backdrop of a war between the Christian Emperor of Ethiopia and the Moslem Sultan of Oman. Along the way, Hal inherits his father's captaincy and finds true love (as opposed to hormonal-driven sex with Katinka) - twice.
As painted by the author, Wilbur Smith, the chief characters of this swashbuckling adventure are almost caricatures. The "good guys" - principally Hal and his loyal buddies, Aboli, Ned, and Daniel - are brave, noble and heroic. The "bad guys" - Katinka, Governor van de Velde, Bowles, Cumbrae, and Schreuder - are cruel, dishonorable and totally vile. The action, much as in Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones film trilogy, is wildly improbable, especially over the book's latter half. Similarly, however, that same action is scripted with such exuberance and energy that it's totally engaging. Finally, I read to be transported to places that, in most cases, I will never visit. I doubt that I shall ever ply the Indian Ocean or South Atlantic aboard a frigate under sail. This book took me there in grand style.
on 22 September 2009
I've read the Courteney novels in order of publication (as Smith recommends) and wasn't sure what this prequel was going to be like and I have to say is fantastic. Never before have I encountered a writter that covers so many different topics and do a ruddy good job each time. This time we are on the high seas and having read a number of historical nautical books I was aprhensive to say the least but it really is worth picking up. I look forward to monsoon....
on 9 February 2004
OK look, lets get something staright, it has taken me 6 years to get to the final 10 pages of this long but detailed and engrossing book, I never want the experience to end. I feel like part of my life could be over without it. Now thats out of the way lets get on to the plot. Wilbur Smith is a genius of detail, want to learn about Pirate ships? This is the key without trawling through old books and pictures. This is piracy, detailed, it's war and on the high seas in 1667. If this is your bag or perhaps just a tinkle of an interest sparks in the mind sit back and spend (hopefully less time than me) reading this great story! **Cutlasses at the ready**