Ghost Fire by Wilbur Smith with Tom Harper: Caught up in some of the most dangerous times in world history, Connie and Theo’s journey from childhood to adulthood is a spellbinding, rollercoaster ride

Ghost Fire
Ghost Fire
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When teenagers Theo and Constance Courtney are orphaned in a brutal attack on a British fort in Madras in 1754, the siblings vow to each other that they will never be parted.

When teenagers Theo and Constance Courtney are orphaned in a brutal attack on a British fort in Madras in 1754, the siblings vow to each other that they will never be parted.

But with the only life they have ever known now lying in ruins around them, and the future looking uncertain, both youngsters believe they have been cruelly betrayed by each other… can time ever heal the chasm that has opened up between them?

From the dawn of the 17th century right through to the 20th century, we have witnessed the fortunes and misfortunes of the sprawling and ambitious Courtney family as they negotiate war, social upheaval and the dark side of history.

Their creator is the phenomenally successful South African author Wilbur Smith whose thrilling novels have sold over 130 million worldwide, and whose full-time writing career began in 1964 with the publication of When the Lion Feeds.

Fifty-five years later, the 86-year-old shows no sign of flagging as the nineteenth novel in the Courtney Series sweeps us away to the mid-18th century for an epic story of tragedy, loss, betrayal and courage.

At the heart of this pulsating new adventure – written with thriller writer and historical novelist Tom Harper – is another branch of the sprawling Courtney family who find themselves caught up in the bitter French and Indian War of 1754-63, part of a larger imperial war between Britain and France known as the Seven Years’ War.

The French and Indian War pitted the colonies of British America against those of New France, a colony that stretched from Louisiana through the Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes to Canada, with each side supported by military units from their home countries and by American Indian allies.

In Ghost Fire, we meet 16-year-old Constance and 15-year-old Theo Courtney holed up in Fort St George, Madras, in 1754 as the rumblings of war between France and Britain are being felt amidst the well-heeled colonists making money by trading through the East India Company.

Inseparable since birth, the siblings are as different as chalk and cheese… ‘Connie’ Courtney is outspoken, restless and daring, constantly railing against the restrictions imposed on her as a female in a man’s world, while her younger, more cautious and serious brother has learned lessons from ‘painful experience.’

When their parents are killed during an attack on the fort by the bellicose French, eager to capture some of the rich pickings in the East, the shattered young Theo blames himself for their deaths and is racked with guilt.

Left alone and orphaned, Connie and Theo are placed into the care of their cousin, Gerard Courtney, in Calcutta but while Connie revels in her new life of luxury, Theo is set to work as a clerk at the local fort and strikes a solitary and lonely path.

But he is still determined to atone for his mistakes and when he discovers that Connie is compromising and betraying him with her new free-spirited, free-living lifestyle, he decides to seek salvation in combat and conflict and joins the British in the war against the French and Indian army.

Connie, meanwhile, believes her brother has abandoned her, and abused and brutalised by a series of corrupt guardians, she vows never to let any man own her. Instead, she uses her beauty to manipulate her way to France, where she is welcomed into high society.

But Connie once again finds herself at the mercy of vicious men, whose appetite for war and glory lead her to the frontlines of the French battlefield in North America. And as the siblings find their destinies converging once more, they realise that the vengeance and redemption they both desperately seek could cost them their lives…

Smith is on his best form in this thrilling new adventure for the Courtneys as the action moves from the heat and humidity of Calcutta to the chic society of France and on to the warring amidst the wilderness of North America which would lead ultimately to the American Revolution.

Brimming with rich historical detail, real events, stirring adventure, bone-crunching violence, cruelty, conflict, and soaring passions, Ghost Fire delivers everything – and more – that we have come to expect from this exciting author.

Caught up in some of the most dangerous times in world history, Connie and Theo’s journey from childhood to adulthood is a spellbinding, rollercoaster ride, and one that no adventure-lover would want to miss!

(Zaffre, hardback, £20)