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by Wilbur Smith

Assegai is Wilbur Smith's thirty second novel, it follows The Triumph of the Sun in which the author brought the Courtney and Ballantyne series together. Assegai tells the story of Leon Courtney (son the Ryder Courtney) and is set in 1906 in Kenya. The events in the story are linked to and precede the outbreak of World War One.

Plot summary

After a fallout with his father, Leon Courtney leaves home and joins the army with a little help from his uncle - General Penrod Ballantyne. Leon Courtney rises to become a second lieutenant in the King's African Rifles regiment based in Nairobi, and early in the story narrowly avoids being court-martialled by a vindictive superior officer. Despite his acquittal Leon's duties do nothing to improve his falling morale and he considers quitting the army.

Wilbur Smith - Assegai

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General Penrod Ballantyne then recruits Leon to spy on movements of man and machine in German East Africa, suspecting the Kaiser of preparing for war. Leon is placed as apprentice to professional hunter - Percy Phillips. Leon's aptitude for the vocation and learning new languages makes him suitable for the job. His contacts in the local population, specially the Maasai tribe with whom he forges a strong bond, make him adept at espionage.


Among Leon and Percy's colourful clients are Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit, and a fifty-two year old dominatrix German princess.

The first half of the story establishes Leon's credentials as the protagonist. Like many of Wilbur Smith's heroes, Leon is a hunter and marksman, comfortable in the wild, and respectful and adaptable to local people and customs.

The antagonist Graf Otto von Meerbach appears in the second half, along with his mistress Eva von Wellbreg. Leon is forewarned by Ballantyne that Meerbach is closely linked with the German war effort and that Leon should keep a eye on his new client. Eva however complicates the matter as Leon falls in love with her at first sight. Meerbach's prowess as a hunter is revealed, along with his true intentions. And in the end Leon is left alone to take down the larger than life enemy.

The major parts of the story are set in the wild outside Nairobi, with rich descriptions of hunters' strategies, local Masai customs, big game hunting and lion hunting.

Penrod Ballantyne

'Assegai' continues the Courtney series but still includes Penrod Ballantyne as a crucial character, not just to the plot but also to the main character - Leon Courtney. Though Penrod's role is not very large, his character has developed since the previous novel. In 'The Triumph of the Sun' he was a womanising but competent military officer and spy, in 'Assegai' he is a portly general in the king's army in British East Africa and a manipulative spymaster who exercises control over his agents.

Similarities with other Wilbur Smith characters and novels

The setting for 'Assegai' is similar to 'A Time To Die' by the same author. Both protagonists are sons of a wealthy businessmen, and now professional hunters / military officers whose missions are complicated by their love interests, whom they met through a client.

Graf Otto von Meerbach - the villain, is also similar to Osman Atalan - Penrod Ballantyne's nemesis from 'The Triumph of the Sun'. Both antagonists are larger-than-life characters, even stronger alpha-males than the protagonists seem to be. They are war-mongerers but subjects of the greater evil which is being dealt with by the British army in Africa.

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Have your say


A great book from Wilbur Smith. Assegai is another one of those books you can't put down once you start reading it. Loaded with many twists and turns.

Research pays off. The reader may as well be there. Descriptions are brilliant.


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