Book Reviews, Literary

Review: LEGACY OF WAR, Wilbur Smith and David Churchill

A brand-new Courtney Series adventure. The action-packed new book in the Courtney Series and the sequel to Courtney’s War. The war is over, Hitler is dead – and yet his evil legacy lives on. Saffron Courtney and her beloved husband Gerhard only just survived the brutal conflict, but Gerhard’s Nazi-supporting brother, Konrad, is still free and determined to regain power. As a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse develops, a plot against the couple begins to stir. One that will have ramifications throughout Europe. . . Further afield in Kenya, the last outcrop of the colonial empire is feeling the stirrings of rebellion. As the situation becomes violent, and the Courtney family home is under threat, Leon Courtney finds himself caught between two powerful sides – and a battle for the freedom of a country. Legacy of War is a nail-biting story of courage, bravery, rebellion and war from the master of adventure fiction.

LEGACY OF WAR is the sixteenth book (unless it’s the nineteenth book) in a series of historical novels that span the distance from (if I have this right) the French and Indian War to the post-World War II period, when this volume takes place.

Wilbur Smith and David Churchill have the unenviable job here to make this book accessible to readers like me who haven’t read the other books in the series while putting in the occasional reference to the other books for fanservice. This is trickier than it sounds; you don’t want new readers to get lost or veteran readers to get bored. How this works out in practice is that Smith and Churchill balance out the action scenes with plenty of scenes that not only aren’t action but that look backward to the previous books rather than forward. This can be made to work, but you have to find a balance, and the problem with LEGACY OF WAR is that it often feels unbalanced.

The way this works in practice is that the action is centered in the novel’s timeline, while most everything that isn’t action harkens back to the other books. As far as the action goes, there’s absolutely nothing to criticize, and you’d look foolish to do it. Smith and Churchill put their heroes up against ex-Nazis and the Mau Mau rebels with panache. There’s an argument to be made that heroine Action Girl Saffron Courtney and her ex-Luftwaffe fighter jock husband are smarter and braver and more talented in the ways of war than any real people could ever be, but LEGACY OF WAR pits them against some very bad people that test even their extreme limits.

Part of the balance issue is that you can’t just have action scene after action scene; you have to give the reader a break. The problem is that the scenes that aren’t action scenes are either dull or incomprehensible. There’s a lot of talk about involving some distant cousin (who apparently features in some of the other books) but that particular subplot sputters out with a wet splat. That sort of thing is just boring (although it may not be to veteran readers); what is actively annoying is that Smith and Churchill spend so much time making the good characters out to be liberals who understand which way the forces of history are going (easy to do in hindsight).

The last paragraph of the book review (at least the way I do it) traditionally recaps the review, provides a pull quote, and makes a recommendation. I’ve been sitting here for the last hour trying to figure out how to do it, and this is me throwing up my hands. There’s nothing wrong with LEGACY OF WAR, there are plenty of things right about it, but you might be better off reading the other fifteen (or eighteen) books first instead. Otherwise (setting aside the well-done action scenes), LEGACY OF WAR doesn’t have enough to recommend it. That’s it. That’s the review.