This first volume of the second Courtney sequence is about the descendants of Sean Courtney through Michael, his firstborn son whose death was briefly reported in A Sparrow Falls. Michael is a pilot in the Flying Corps in World War One, and the novel opens in 1917 with a brilliantly described series of air battles in those early days of flying. He meets and falls in love with Centaine de Thiry, round whose chateau the battle rages, but is heartbreakingly killed on their wedding day. Centaine, however, is already pregnant, and with characteristic pluck and determination decides to give birth in the country Michael loved so well, South Africa.
The scene moves to the aptly named Skeleton Coast of South West Africa, where the Afrikaner Lothar de la Rey, who bears bitter scars of hatred for the British from the Boer war, supplies some of the German U-boats that patrol the world's oceans. Centaine's ship is torpedoed with massive loss of life. Surviving the cold of the Benguela Current and the terror of a shark attack, she is washed onto the bleak and burning coast, where, on the point of death from thirst and exposure, she is found by two Bushmen, H'ani and O'wa, perhaps two of Wilbur Smith's most endearing characters. Gently they teach her the ways of survival in the desert, and she becomes their companion as they cross the dunes to find the Bushmen's holy valley 'The Place of All Life'. There Centaine gives birth to her son and names him Shasa, 'Good Water', for that is the greatest blessing a Bushman can bestow on a child.
Soon, however, Centaine becomes restless, and one night she takes the infant Shasa and leaves the secret valley. Attacked by a lion, she is rescued by Lothar, now a wandering outlaw in the desert. Starved of company of her own kind, she falls in love with him - until he kills H'ani and O'wa. Then not even the knowledge that she bears his child will allow her to forgive him. Welcomed home by her faithful Anna and Garrick Courtney, Centaine nonetheless returns to the Bushman's holy place. For she wishes to give birth to her second son in secret, and she has discovered that there are diamonds there.
Centaine's rejection of her Afrikaner infant - ruthlessly she thrusts him into his father's arms as soon as he is born - sets the scene for the powerful novels that follow. The subsequent conflict between this child and Shasa mirrors the rift and the jealousies between Afrikaner and Briton that have been a major factor in South African politics this century, and will be the dominant theme of Power of the Sword.
Original title: The Burning Shore
Genre: Fiction→ Adventure→ Wild Frontiers And Exotic Lands