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
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.
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
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.
'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