The sound of thunder – Wilbur Smith
Although I had read two books by Wilbur Smith and enjoyed them immensely, the first Sean Courtney novel, When the lion feeds completely blew me away. I loved how it was a family drama with a western feel to it. I eagerly anticipated the follow up.
Sean Courtney, the impulsive adventurer, returns from the wilderness a rich man, until he is robbed by the Boers. A grim homecoming finds his country in the grip of war, but conflicts within the family will prove far more bitter than any fought on the veld.
The sound of thunder begins with the same level of quality as the first novel. Sean is older now and his son is now a teenager. Within the first chapter he has lost the fortune he amassed and has to start over.
It sets the premise for the rest of the book and once again makes him the underdog and a character to root for. However, Smith takes care to evolve his protagonist’s character.
Whilst Sean is still the same loveable, enthusiastic man full of risk and adventure he is also a lousy father. He turns a blind eye to the bully of a man his son is developing into, choosing to ignore his responsibility as a father in the hope the situation will resolve itself.
A chance encounter provides Sean with a new love interest. This is a little unrealistic in that it is virtually love at first sight. What is more the woman is married and this leads to an inevitable plot twist that you could see a mile off. But when the story is so engrossing as this story is, this really doesn’t matter.
Set against the backdrop of the Boer war, Sean’s life cannot avoid the war and he soon finds himself embroiled in the conflict. Whilst this is intriguing in part and the description of the battles detailed, I have to admit, I found my interest waning in parts. The sound of thunder is at its strongest when it involves the drama of the Courtney family. The scenes depicting the war remove the emotional attachment I experienced with the characters, mainly because the secondary characters in these scenes weren’t so well rounded with one obvious exception.
The real plot is centred on Sean’s family and the history and turmoil that come with everyday living. All of the characters are well fleshed out. Sean’s sons in particular are great characters in both their likability and their despicableness, whilst his brother develops nicely. The villains in the story with the exception of Sean’s sister in law are not cartoonish. All have sound reasoning for their actions and invoke a degree of pity at least for their actions.
The ending is very good. It is not exactly epic but brings a satisfying conclusion to all of the character’s story arcs whilst setting up some nice cliff hangers for the concluding volume in the series.
All in all, The sound of thunder is an excellent, if uneven read. It suffers from a middle section that focuses a little too much on the Boer war, which whilst interesting is not of the same quality of the excellent opening and concluding sections.
My rating 8.6