Birds of Prey is not for the faint-hearted. If you saw Pirates of the Caribbean and you think you know about pirates, you are in for a big surprise. Being a pirate was not fun at all!
This book is the cornerstone of Wilbur Smith's "The Courtneys of South Africa" saga. Although he didn't write the books in chronological order, it helps if you read them that way. This novel is set in the mid-seventeenth century, 1667, and begins the Courtney story with Sir Francis and his son Hal aboard the Lady Edwina an English ship laying in wait for the Dutch galleons of the East India Company off the coast of South Africa.
At the time, Cape Town is barely more than a small fort, very primitive and dirty, run by the Dutch and intolerant of the English. The English and the Dutch are not at war, but both sides have issues Letters of Marque to captains allowing them to seize and loot each others shipping for the cargo and gold.
In addition to detailed descriptions of life on these small ships and the hard life the sailors must endure, the reader is immersed in the murder, treachery, lies and deceipt that were the way of this world long ago. We are introduced to bad politicians, crooked captains, ladies of less than stellar morals, slavers and slaves. The depth of research into each of these cultures is Wilbur Smith's trademark and brings all the pieces of this story into one seamless tale of a father and his son.
The locations of Ethiopia, South Africa, Madagascar and the Indian Ocean are breathtakingly described, as are the individual cultures and cast of characters. We get religion in the form of the Nautonnier Knights of the Temple of the Order of St. George and the Holy Order, THe Knights Templar. Sir Francis Courtney is a Navigator of the Order and his son Hal aspires to the same station. Unfortunately, "The Buzzard", Governor-elect of The Cape of Good Hope Petrus van de Welde and his wife Katinka, and Colonel Cornelius Schreuder, Military Commander of the Cape are all thrown together in a power play for control of the seas, money and political gain.
Aboli, an African slave freed by Sir Francis is the conscience of the book, and adds great depth to the story, as he brings a totally different viewpoint to the narrative. Being an African wasn't easy either, especially when surrounded by bickering white men bent on taking over the country of his birth.
All in all, this is a great book that sets the stage for an epic series that takes the reader from the 1600's to Apartheid. This is history. It is nasty, cruel and sad. It is also enlightening, educational and a darn good read!
Title: Birds of Prey