A section from
‘A Jedi shall not know hatred, nor fear… nor love.’ from Star Wars Episode II
The Triumph of the Sun - Wilbur Smith
There were tears in Rebecca’s eyes as Ryder stopped speaking. ‘He sounds like a fine and brave young man, this Penrod Ballantyne. Have you ever met him, Mr. Courtney?’
Ryder shrugged. ‘Most of the ladies I have spoken to assure me that they find him dashing and gallant. They are particularly enamoured of his moustache, which is formidable. Perhaps Captain Ballantyne might agree raher too readily with the general opinion of himself.’
‘You do not approve of Captain Ballantyne, sir? Rebecca asked.
‘I am sure that Ballantyne is an authentic hero, and I am indeed impressed by his facial hair. However I have never detected in him any excess of humility. But then again I am ambivalent about all military men. No, Miss Benbrook, I have no quarrel with Captain Ballantyne, but I am not entirely enamoured of that branch of the state apparatus to which he belongs.’
Sudan at the end of the nineteenth century was the battle ground between Egyptian forces under the stewardship of General Charles Gordon and the rebelling Mahdist Sudanese army under the leadership of Muhammad Ahmad. The capital was cut off from the outside by the Sudanese in a military standoff that has since been referred to as the Siege of Khartoum (1884-1885). When the city did finally fall to the Sudanese army the defending Egyptian soldiers were massacred. General Charles Gordon’s dead body was a trophy.
Muhammad Ahmad died shortly afterword but not before establishing a religious state - much of what is Sudan today. However the loss of Khartoum and the legendary General Gordon was a major blow to the British who dispatched Field Marshal Horatio Kitchener in 1886 whose campaign brought the Sudan back under Anglo-Egyptian government. This new government lasted till the independence of Sudan in 1956.
About the Story
After writing many books on the adventures of the Courtney and Ballantyne families, Wilbur Smith brings them both together for the first time in The Triumph of the Sun - a novel of adventure, politics and war in a turbulent time and place in history.
In a strange and far-away land a lone soldier crosses swords with a warlord, a young lady gives way to fate and learns to lose her innocence at the hands of men, and sometimes even the heroes have to stand and watch as their lives, loves and homes are destroyed. It is a story of east versus west, and clashing cultures and beliefs, where all characters have ambition, faith, greed, courage and lust.
1884, Sudan. The story begins before the fall of Khartoum at the hands of a charismatic religious leader who has fashioned himself as ‘the expected one’. His army of fanatical believers strike fear into the citizens of Khartoum and the British subjects there and all supply lines into the city are blocked with no escape route. In the midst of this predicament Ryder Courtney and Penrod Ballantyne face off for the attentions of Rebecca Benbrook – the British consul’s eldest daughter.
The story revolves around the siege of Khartoum in the first half, and the trials of Rebecca in the second half.
Between the two protagonists Courtney portrays a more mature and patriarchal role of the experienced businessman cum adventurer who is looking to settle down and start a family. Ballantyne on the other hand is a swashbuckling adventurer and recalcitrant soldier who is in his prime. His affairs with women are notorious and his martial exploits have earned him the title of ‘abadan riji’ or ‘one who does not turn back’.
At the vanguard of the mahdi’s forces is Osman Atalan – one of the most feared and powerful warlords in north Africa. In true spirit of Wilbur Smith’s antagonist Osman is actually an anti-hero, whose character is more developed and defined than Courtney or Ballantyne. He is wicked, wily and unforgiving in his ways; and the cruelties meted out by him to POWs are skin-crawling. The writing actually makes the reader cringe.
Through continuing cruel twists of fate Rebecca suffers a great deal in the book. Even her time with the protagonists isn’t without pain, and serves as a reflection of attitudes towards women at the time. However Rebecca’s greatest trials come along with a leap in the story’s pace which make it irresistible. These trials coupled with Ballantyne’s swashbuckling rescue attempts and Atalan’s devious cunning take the story to a higher level but fill it with brutal realities of war. Ryder Courtney and his rescue operations serve only to fill in the background while Ballantyne and Rebecca remain in the thick of action.
Inspirations behind Major Characters
Penrod Ballantyne can only be partially equated with Baker Pasha - otherwise known as Valentine Baker (1827-1887), who was in the same regiment - the 10th Hussars. Baker luckily escaped certain death at the hands of the Mahdist army under Osman Digna in the battle of El Teb (1884). He was a noted writer and spent his last days leading the Egyptian police, but not before being discharged from the army for indecent behaviour with a young woman.
Osman Atalan is based on the Mahdist army’s ablest general - Osman Digna (1836-1926) who was responsible for the fall of Khartoum in 1885. Like Atalan, Digna is from the Beja tribe. Towards the end of the Mahdist wars he was captured and imprisoned for eight years, after which he spent his time in Egypt.
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