Sunday, September 9, 2007


TITLE: The Triumph of the Sun
AUTHOR: Wilbur Smith
GENRE:Historical Fiction/Adventure


An Epic tale of romance, adventure and unimaginable horrors in the deserts of the Sudan and Egypt…

Prologue: I have to say, first up, that I am an avid Wilbur Smith reader. I have his entire collection in Hardback and have read them all many times. The exception is his last novel, which I will not go into, but just let me say it was tragic in every aspect. I have noted in your comments, that many of you dislike ‘packaged’ writing but I find sanctuary in these types of novels as they lead me through history, peoples and landscapes that I would not normally read about through the more normal channels of history texts. His research is impeccable and like Alfredo Massimo Manfredi’sAlexander series, I find that I better understand history and its peoples. I am not naive enough to believe that they do not embellish history to suite their stories but in the main they are true to History as recorded and after all is not history just the biased written word of the victor? Smith has led me through the Arab and Western Slave trade, White Settlement, the Zulu wars, the gold and diamond rushes, the Boer Wars, WWI and WWII, the apartheid era, Egypt, Namibia, South Africa, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and all the while he let me see Africa’s history from a personnel level. It is, raw, majestic and brutal. He has painted the pictures for my mind and I have opened it up for him. If you cannot imagine and feel his environment then Wilbur is not for you. Now on with my attempt to paint a picture of Mr Smiths “Triumph in the Sun”…

Theme: Set in the Sudan during the siege of Khartoum. The Mahdi ‘The Expected One’ has declared a Holy War and aims to cleanse the land of the unbelievers through his fanatical Dervish armies.

This book ties the two great British ‘Smith’ families of the Courtneys (Sound of Thunder, When the Lion Feeds etc) and Ballantynes (A Falcon Flies, Men of Men etc) together for the first time in their African timeline.

It centres around two main male characters; Captain Penrod Ballantyne of the King’s 10th Hussars and the enigmatic Ryder Courtney, the Captain of a river trader. They are based in the besieged City of Khartoum under attack from the Mahdi, himself residing in the twin city of Omdurman a canon shot away, across the quickly receding Nile River. The river is the only barrier protecting those trapped inside Khartoum’s walls. A third male lead is introduced and offers an insight into the mind and culture of the supporters of the Mahdi…Osman Atalan is an Emir the Beja tribe and introduces us to an underlying core set of values and true morality, from his perspective. It is a truly wondrous and at times brutal ride.

The women, and there is always a love interest, centre around the daughters of the widowed British Consul, Sir David Benbrook. His eldest daughter Rebecca captures the heart of all the male leads while her twin, younger sisters eventually usurp her as the love interest of the British leads.

Sir Charles ‘Chinese’ Gordan is one of the non fictional characters whom link our fictional characters into history. He is/was an infamous English General sequestered into the Egyptian Army as the commander-in-chief, the Sirdar. He was ostensibly sent to Khartoum to evacuate the western population and the Egyptian garrison but defied inducements to evacuate, leading to his demise. Lord Kitchener, plays a hand eventually, and finally subdues the Sudan by 1898 before terrorising the Boers and then later the Germans on the Western Front of France.

The novel is based on history and we follow actual events through the eyes and actions of our fictional and non fictional characters. We find ourselves in the midst of actual battles fighting alongside everyone from the British camel corp to the Ansar of the Mahdi. Smith’s characters are always larger than life, strong, brave and handsome and through either actions or birth are destined for greatness.

Whilst his hallmark passages of epic battles, dusty and dangerous elephant hunts and fiery romance abound in this adventure, in droves, there is also the historical tale that has been researched very well….although, disappointingly, the last thirty years, or so, seem to be crammed into the final few pages to get to end the Sudanese saga.

One of my big criticisms of this and his later books is that, Smith steps aside from his tried and true and some would say ‘packaged’ stories…”Boy meets girl, Boy great Warrior/Adventurer/Entrepreneur, Epic adventure with African backdrop of wild animals and wild natives, Boy wins girl”…and possibly debases his female characters and the read by trying to intersperse rather graphic – for Wilbur – Sex scenes into his book. These tacky scenes do nothing for the story or the characters nor do they do anything for Smith or the reader. His attempts at describing lovemaking are akin to fingernails being dragged down a blackboard…they made me cringe.

So there we have it…adventure, romance, brutality, war, love and religion...all we need now is a Starbuck’s and we would have it all. As I said in my prologue, I am a great Smith fan and I forgive his weaknesses and his repetitive narrative* because I see beyond his writing and lose my self in the historical canvass he paints of the wondrous times and events of history.

Thanks for reading :)

* Smith quotes, almost verbatim, certain events that happen time and again through his sagas like whenever a lion attacks; we can smell its cadaverous breath and visualise its yellow eyes or when an Elephant sucks the air and blows the scent onto its olfactory gland by use of its trunk. He explains it very well and we can really see the moment but when you read almost the same passage in every novel it gets a bit rich. It is almost like he is too lazy to write it another way so he just cuts and pastes these little snippets.


redcap said...

Hey Scorpy - good review! You like what you like and that's totally cool. I'm a huge sucker for a good African adventure and one of my pals keeps trying to get me to read Men of Men, so coming with your recommendation and his, I might give it a burl ;)

Mr Google tells me that Smith turned 74 in January. It's weird that he's suddenly started writing raunchy sex scenes and changed his usual recipe, don't you think? Is the writing different too, apart from those little cut and paste descriptions? I wonder if he's getting a little help from a ghost writer?

Scorpy said...

He dedicated the first 20 or so books to his undying love for his wife Danielle but he must have dumped her and gone for a younger version because the latter books are dedicated to a new soulmate...Mokhiniso Rakhimova Smith...maybe, she has something to do with it. She is his Yoko and must be the cause of his writing and stories dropping off in intensity and direction plus the increase in sex scenes:)

redcap said...

Euww. I think I prefer the idea of him having some poor hack who does the work while Wilbur takes a nanna nap.

Dot said...

wow, i like the sound of this one!

i have quite a weakness for "larger than life, strong, brave and handsome" heroes... *swoon*

meva said...

So do I, Dot. MapMan is a devourer of Wilbur Smith novels. Maybe that's where he gets his cadaverous breath?

After your splendiforous review, Scorpy, I might give Mr Smith a go as well. I'll just make sure the Listerine is nearby, eh?