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Another classic from a master storyteller
on 9 March 2003
If you’ve not read Wilbur Smith before, let me explain. If you’ve ever longed to read an adventure story, yet you’ve never found any that live up to your high expectations – of a single novel containing love, betrayal, war, fighting, sea battles, camraderie and so forth, and the whole thing *not* reading like horribly contrived of drivel … Wilbur Smith writes those books. And he writes them with aplomb: Smith has the gift of a true storyteller, and no matter what you do there is no escape when he starts to tell you a tale. He writes with confidence and eloquence; criticisms of him tend to be that his characters are all stereotyped heroes and villains, maidens in distress or conniving evil harlots… but when you’re reading one of his stories whether or not that is true is highly irrelevant. Sometimes you *want* to read about heroes and villains, and when the story on offer is so rich and well-told this amounts to a constantly exhilerating experience.
“Blue Horizon”, then, sees Smith returning to the early Courtney family books, following on from “Birds of Prey” and “Monsoon”. This one begins with Jim Courney, son of Tom from “Monsoon”, having to leave his family and travel into the African wilderness to be with the woman he loves (we expect nothing less from Wilbur Smith!). That’s about as far as the jacket blurb goes, and completely fails to inform you that once again Smith makes the scope of his story truly epic. Earlier in the book you may feel you don’t know all the characters at all because the focus is placed on Tom and his love, Louisa – but soon enough the focus changes, as Smith strikes the balance between adventures on the African mainland and returns to the thrilling sequences on the open sea experienced in “Blue Horizon”’s prequels, and takes the reader into the lives of each of his characters individually.
Without giving away the plot, some old villains return from the past, and new ones appear on the scene, too. The Courtneys have to fight for their very existence, from Table Bay to the Caliph’s Muscat of Dorian’s childhood.
I will admit that ealier in this book I was in danger of becoming a little bored with it – it seemed that the basis of the story was Jim running away across the desert, and then finding out what his pursuers were doing. From the length of the book it’s easily apparent to even the new reader that Wilbur Smith writes long books, but unusually for him the opening of this one seemed to drag a little. However, read just a little further and the book will have you (probably literally) gasping for breath. An incredible sea battle, lasting about 30 pages, and one character trying to save another from falling over a precipice for almost 10 are just two highlights in this excellent story. Rest assured, those sequences do not drag – if anything you’ll wish they went on longer. Similarly, if you feel put off a little by the opening sections of “Blue Horizon”, stick with it, because it quickly opens out into true epic-Smith, and once again the actions of his heroes truly seem to mean something, as they begin to affect the fate of entire nations.
With incredibly historical accuracy, Smith weaves you into his world, and soon enough you won’t want to leave (except perhaps to find a book on nautical to terms to work out what the hell his thoroughly accurate sailing terminology actually means – though it doesn’t interrupt enjoyment of the book). This is certainly not an intellectual fix, but with prose of such quality you’d be forgiven for making that mistake; this is, put simply, a brilliant adventure story. If that’s what you’re after, then buy it from the benchmark of the genre.