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In the triumph of the sun is a novel by Wilbur Smith and it tells a story about the siege of Khartoum and the death of General Gordon. It uses fictional characters to tell the real-life occupation of The Sudan by the British in the latter period of the 19th century and the uprising which led to the death of Gordon.
Wilbur Smith is best known for his Courtney and Ballantine novels set in colonial South Africa/Rhodesia and tell tales of strongmen fighting the elements, wild animals, savage natives and each other to set up fictional power bases in those countries. Normally, the Courtneys and Ballantines are kept separate but here we have an example of each in the narrative, we have Ryder Courtney a boat operator and businessman and Penrod Ballantine Captain of her Majesties Hussars stationed in The Sudan. I can remember Wilbur Smith as a teenage boy and his stories set in the 19th/early 20th century about the Boar wars, elephant hunting and lion shooting in a strongman's universe full of guns, fighting, women and alpha males. I have read his river god series as well set in ancient Egypt and enjoyed those but this was the first of his colonial Africa stories I'd read for well over 20 years.
Gordon and Khartoum
I'm probably going to show my age a bit here but when I was at school we were taught that General Gordon was a hero who died for Queen and country at the siege of Khartoum just two days before a British relief force arrived to save the city. I now know that as with everything it all depends on your point of view, he was killed by what were then called Dervishes (I don't know if that term is derogatory or not, apologies if it is) who were railing against British rule in their homeland of The Sudan. So colonial thug who imposed his will and beliefs on a native population or a hero of Britain protecting our interests oversees?
Enough of that on with the book review, Wilbur Smith sets out to explore the siege of Khartoum through the eyes of Ryder, Penrod and a trio of sisters of the British consul David Binbrooke (I'm not sure if they are real or fictional). Each of the sisters fancies either Ryder or Penrod and as the story enfolds there are a series of rather uncomfortable sex scenes featuring the sisters. Both Ryder and Penrod are given basically the same character, macho male, extremely handy with a gun, horse and view women as spoils of war. The women are all simpering teenage girls who readily jump into bed and alliances with those virile young men and have very little other thoughts.
To be fair the book goes beyond the death of Gordon and fall of Khartoum and explores the fate of one of the sisters captured by the Dervish, Penrod is captured and Ryder rather fades out the story. The book progresses through rescue acts, sword fights and eventual marriages. The book is odd in some ways because for a protracted period very little happens, Penrod is in jail, the sisters disparate and desperate for information and Ryder curiously not mentioned. Then it all ends in a whirlwind and dampens down to one of the dullest final chapters in any book.
I read the book and enjoyed the first 50-100 pages but slowly the increasingly alpha male tone of the book started to wear me down, there is very little going on beyond a sort of valediction of Britain colonial rule over Africa. The natives/dervishes are purely cast as one dimensional villains capable of extreme brutality and have only thoughts on following god and massacring Europeans at any opportunity (except Penrod for some reason, he escapes death and is instead merely tortured and then slowly allowed to become a man of means again). I would love to have met my teenage self and ask him what he thought about the book, am I just getting older or as time has gone along have my tastes in literature become more refined? Overall, not one of his best I suspect and it would be interesting to go back and read one of his more famous novels like A lion Feeds and see if I enjoy all over again?
In the Sudan, decades of brutal misgovernment by the ruling Egyptian Khedive in Cairo precipitate a fierce and bloody rebellion and Holy War headed by a charismatic new religious leader, The Madhi or Expected One. The British are forced to intervene to protect their national interests and to attempt to rescue the hundreds of British subjects stranded in the country. Along with hundreds of others, British trader and businessman, Ryder Courtney is trapped in the capital city of Khartoum. It is here that he meets Captain Penrod Ballantyne of the 10th Hussars, as well as the British Consul, David Benbrook and his three beautiful daughters. Against the vivid and bloody backdrop of the siege of Khartoum, in which British General Charles George Gordon is killed and the British retreat, these three powerful men fight to survive.