The Triumph of the Sun
|Series||The Ballantyne Novels
The Courtney Novels
|Preceded by||The Leopard Hunts in Darkness
"That incident had all the elements of a great story setting because you have the captive characters who are having to interact with each other because there is no escape – siege conditions. Also the river. I’m fascinated by the great rivers of Africa. Played against that was a sort of island setting in the desert. Then it had such powerful influences at work – the British Empire against the revolting Mahdists, the conflict of religions, Gordon and the Mahdi, both of them totally fanatical, believing that they spoke directly to God, and unbendable and unbending."
Smith wrote a series of novels concerning two families, the Courtneys and the Ballantynes. This is his first book where the families meet. "Right from Birds of Prey (chronologically the earliest Courtney book) the Courtneys were pirates, merchants, looking to seize the main chance," said Smith. "They were very much driven by monetary considerations. But with the Ballantynes it was much more empire, patriotism, glory – the soldierly virtues. I’ve kept them intact.”
Smith researched the novel by consulting the diaries of participants, the most valuable of which was Austrian Rudolph Slatin who was captured by the Mahdi and kept prisoner for thirteen year, and Samuel White Baker, governor General of the Sudan just before the siege. He also used The River War by Winston Churchill. The character of David Benbrook, British ambassador in Khartoum, was fictitious.
One critic described it as "steamy romance alternates with gore, and it's all done by-the-numbers in a good way—like a junky, absorbing miniseries. Fans will not be disappointed."
1884, Sudan. The story begins before the fall of Khartoum at the hands of a charismatic religious leader who has fashioned himself as ‘the expected one’ after decades of brutal misgovernment by the ruling Egyptian Khedive in Cairo precipitates a bloody rebellion and Holy War. The charismatic new religious leader, the Mahdi or 'Expected One', has gathered his forces of Arab warlords in preparation for a siege on the city of Khartoum. His army of fanatical believers strike fear into the citizens of Khartoum and the British subjects there and all supply lines into the city are blocked with no escape route.
British trader and businessman Ryder Courtney is trapped in the capital city of Khartoum under the orders of the infamously iron-willed General Charles George Gordon. It is here that he meets skilled soldier and swordsman Captain Penrod Ballantyne of the 10th Hussars and the British Consul, David Benbrook, as well as Benbrook’s three beautiful daughters. Ryder Courtney and Penrod Ballantyne face off for the attentions of Rebecca Benbrook – the British consul’s eldest daughter.
Between the two protagonists Courtney portrays a more mature and patriarchal role of the experienced businessman cum adventurer who is looking to settle down and start a family. Ballantyne on the other hand is a swashbuckling adventurer and recalcitrant soldier who is in his prime. His affairs with women are notorious and his martial exploits have earned him the title of ‘abadan riji’ or ‘one who does not turn back’.
At the vanguard of the mahdi’s forces is Osman Atalan – one of the most feared and powerful warlords in north Africa. In true spirit of Wilbur Smith’s antagonist Osman is actually an anti-hero, whose character is more developed and defined than Courtney or Ballantyne. He is wicked, wily and unforgiving in his ways; and the cruelties meted out by him to POWs are skin-crawling. The writing actually makes the reader cringe.
Through continuing cruel twists of fate Rebecca suffers a great deal in the book. Even her time with the protagonists isn’t without pain, and serves as a reflection of attitudes towards women at the time. However Rebecca’s greatest trials come along with a leap in the story’s pace which make it irresistible. These trials coupled with Ballantyne’s swashbuckling rescue attempts and Atalan’s devious cunning take the story to a higher level but fill it with brutal realities of war. Ryder Courtney and his rescue operations serve only to fill in the background while Ballantyne and Rebecca remain in the thick of action.
- The Triumph of the Sun at Wilbur Smith's webpage
- "Greatest Historical Novelist of Our Time? Richard Lee's 2005 interview with WILBUR SMITH", Historical Novel Society accessed 18 May 2013
- Review in Publishers Weekly accessed 18 May 2013
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