South African writer Smith leaves the Egyptian sands of River God (1994) and The Seventh Scroll (1995) to deliver a breathlessly plotted, clichÇ-clogged swashbuckler of English pirates harrying Dutch traders off the Cape of Good Hope in 1667. After helping Sir Francis Drake defeat the Spanish Armada, Sir Francis Courteney, his teenage son Hal, and their trusty African sidekick Aboli are roaming the seas aboard the Lady Edwinna as privateers--seamen licensed by King Charles II to prey on ships of the Dutch East India Company as part of England's war against the Dutch. After slipping past their scurrilous rival, Angus, Lord Cumbrae (a.k.a. the Buzzard), the Courteneys seize a Dutch trader and ransom its aristocratic passengers: the loathsomely fat Dutch colony governor Petrus Jacobus van de Velde; his sexy, sadistic wife Katrinka; and the mad, mustachioed musketeer Colonel Cornelius Schreuder, with whom Katrinka is having an affair. The governor whimpers, Katrinka seduces Hal, and Schreuder vows revenge. Meanwhile, Sam Bowles, a cowardly member of the crew, betrays the Courteneys to the Buzzard, who betrays everyone to Colonel Schreuder, who throws the Courteneys and their crew into prison. Sir Francis is tortured and executed, and Hal, Aboli, and the rest of the not-so-merry men are sold into slavery but manage to stage a dashing escape with Colonel Schreuder in hot pursuit. Everybody seeks revenge on everybody else; Hal discovers true love and loss and, in a stirring shipboard climax, faces down bad Colonel Schreuder in a sword-slashing duel to the death. Though Smith's 27th novel brims with his characteristic love of African flora and fauna, the clunky prose, tawdry sex scenes, and trite plotting make this well-researched, fast-paced epic nearly unreadable.