After missing the mark with his last few novels, Wilbur Smith revisits his bestselling Courtney family franchise for the first time since 2009 when Assegai was released.
Shifting from previous novels in the series, this book mostly follows a young woman named Saffron Courtney, whose father, Leon, is a businessman, war hero, and skillful hunter. In his own words, Leon is “confident in his prowess as a hunter and fighting man,” and he’s trained his daughter well.
From an early age on, and certainly now, Saffron outdoes the boys she competes against. First on the polo field, then later by beating everyone else with her equestrian skills. Set prior to World War II, Saffron continues to hone her skills on the open fields of their large Kenya home under the watchful eye of her father.
Between revisiting Leon’s point of view and filling new readers in on the family’s backstory, Saffron slowly grows up as the story presses on. Soon she’s a teenager ready to face the world, or so she thinks. Then a tragedy that hits close to home shakes Saffron, and the rest of the Courtney family, which stays with her.
While away in South Africa for school, Saffron inadvertently runs into Gerhard von Meerbach. Gerhard’s family has some history with Leon, which is revisited once the two connect, though Gerhard is hardly like his older brother, Konrad, the pompous heir to a stunning fortune and a vocal Nazi sympathizer. Gerhard, for example, becomes friends with a Jewish man and finds himself viewing the world differently than the rest of his family. His relationship with Saffron, though, isn’t exactly clear-cut as the two get to know one another.
At its core, Smith’s novel tells the story of two families with conflicting views and ideologies, both of whom struggle to navigate their way through life. Much like Jeffery Archer’s Clifton Chronicles series, Wilbur Smith provides a compelling and vivid snapshot of the time period his characters exist in and what it was like for adolescents growing up in the tension-filled years just before the second world war.
As the story’s timeline inches closer to World War II, there are a plethora of cameos, including from Hitler and the first leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. The presence of such prominent historical figures is just one of the things that Smith throws in to help transport readers back in time. The sharp, yet time period-specific dialogue is another strength, something that’s been hit-or-miss in some of the author’s previous novels.
The downside is that War Cry is a slow burn, which isn’t attractive to all types of readers. Likewise, it’s somewhat of a character study and for everything to work as planned readers must care about the Courtney family to become engrossed in the story. Smith is one of the few historical fiction novelists who can pull that off, but even so, some readers may prefer a more thrilling, fast-paced plot.
Though it starts out slow, Wilbur Smith’s latest novel shifts the focus from Leon and Eva (his wife) Courtney and makes their daughter the new star. Much of the plot follows Saffron as she grows up, allowing the reader to form a tight bond with the character, who is no doubt being set up to play the main role in the next book, the plot of which is alluded to with a cliffhanger ending.
While it might not be a center bulls-eye shot, War Cry does hit its mark. Smith’s rich character development and veteran know-how when it comes to creating characters readers can connect with drive the story along, with just enough action and tension to keep readers invested in the plot until the end.
Author: Wilbur Smith
Series: Courtney Family #14
Pages: 496 (Hardcover)
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: April 4, 2017 (Order Now!)