Wilbur Smith once more conjures up a spell that leaves his readers enthralled. A fast paced story with all the fun elements- Blood, Sex and Adventure make ‘Birds of Prey’ unputdownable. The entire story fuses great puissance and eschewal with grand action sequences that have rarely been as stunning.
Set up in the year 1667, during the Anglo-Dutch wars, the story can be divided into two main parts-Part one where Sir Francis Courtney sailing on his ship Lady Edwina hogs the limelight of all the action packed scenes. Being a merchant with a Letter of Marque from British Monarch licensed him to raid Dutch ships on their way from Islands of Ceylon and Indonesia to Amsterdam. The Dutch vessels were intercepted around the South African coastline between Cape Agulhas and Cape of Good Hope. Sir Francis Courtney happens to ambush one of the Dutch ships carrying not only expensive goods and spices but also the To-Be-Governor of the Dutch Colony at Good Hope Van-De-Vald along with his wife. The first section of the book is filled with intrigue and vivid battles scenes (and sex scenes). At the end of the first section, Sir Francis Courtney is betrayed by his knighthood mate, the Buzzard with the help of a former crew-member Sam Bowles and a Dutch army colonel, Schreuder, and imprisoned at Good Hope. Sir Francis is brutally tortured and executed.
The Second Part seems to be an addendum to the first part. Hal, the bright-eyed son of Sir Francis Courtney, sweeps across through it and it is a journey from his teenage to manhood. Hal who inculcates all the traits of a classic good guy from a classic father leads his imprisoned crew at Good Hope to an escape that has been vividly limned out in at least 20 pages of the books. Along with his loyal buddies- Ned, Daniel and Aboli and his true love-Sukeena takes out a trip through the wilderness of Africa- the lion raid, encountering rhinoceroses for the first ever time, antelope, elands, the crocodiles and the trip coming to an end by acquiring a great ship, The Golden Bough, from his enemies, Buzzard and Sam Bowles. From here on, the second phase of the Hal’s journey to his destiny begins as they sail through the Indian Ocean to the Great Horn of Africa where a severe battle is going on between the Omani (supported by the Moghuls of India) and The Christian kingdom of Prester John and at this turn, when you expect a severe battle, the writer disappoints a lot and does a Bollywood!! The protagonist sweeps cleanly through the Omani forces, without getting much hurt, and emerges victorious and paving a way for the victory of the Prester John’s kingdom.
Though the book is quite gripping, it is loose at several ends, especially when it comes to sex scenes and some of the facts stated out by the author. There is an explicit mention of the number of sex scenes, perhaps would shy Jackie Collins in that matter. The sex scenes about Hal, who loses his virginity to the Governor’ wife Katinka- a sexy, sadistic, treacherous, high-born S.H.O (slut of the highest order and makes you believe that good breeding isn’t everything!!) and their O.N.S (one-night stands) are mentioned in such a way that you can’t avoid your arousal. The sex-scenes between Katinka and her sex-“objects” beat even Sidney Sheldon. The writer also has a penchant to draft descriptive passages about the penises. In addition, more than once the reader will encounter difficult-to-believe depictions of pederasts and the occasional masturbation scenes. Hal Courtney was depicted as having affairs with three ladies (2 of them eventually, turn out to be his true-loves) and a brief one night stand with an African Tribe female slave.
Another place where book becomes loose in its little details, which a modicum to research would have revealed, but these come to light only if one is Argus-eyed. First of all, on the description of characters named Althuda and Sukeena (Hal’s first True-love), the author makes a huge wild-guess about their religion as almost all the Balinese population is Hindu. Second comes out to be the description of a small bird which looks like Hummingbird. But how can that be?? Hummingbirds are only found in the Americas. Third comes, out to be the battle between Moghuls and Prester John. As far as this fact is concerned, being an Indian and having knowledge about the wars fought by the Mughals, there was never a war between Moghuls and “Prester John”. Another comes out to be the Urdu speaking Moghul shehenshah speaking Arabic.
Another disappointment that the book brings was the do-it-A.S.A.P end. After reading through 600 pages and investing so much time, you don’t expect the protagonist to get an almost no challenge fight. He defeats another ship easily and his other enemies die easily (just like saddi-bollywood movies). I didn’t expect such a show-down after reading such a thick book. Had Mr. Smith compromised on the sex-scenes and sketched out a better finale nothing could’ve been better. But if you’re looking to sit-back, relax and read and action-packed adventure epic like a mega-budget block buster, Birds of Prey would just suffice.
P.S. – Especially, the Indian readers are likely to find the book heavy on vocabulary. So, those who have a strong vocabulary or the ones, wanting to have one it is a must read.
a) vivid descriptions of battle and sex-scenes
b) True-to-life narrative of the Europeans seeing Africa for the first time.
c) Psychological analysis of characters
d) Ability to put across associations between different races
e) Forbearance and set-up to objectivity in visually depicting the motivations and actions of different ethnic/political groups.
a) Amiss about certain facts.
b) Long amorous escapades.
c) Show-down at the end and protagonist depending on lot of luck.
* A headache
**** Very Good