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Hot Key Books acquires ‘high-octane’ Wilbur Smith teen trilogy

Hot Key Books, the acclaimed teen and young adult imprint of Bonnier Books UK, has acquired Prey Zone, a new trilogy from the legendary Wilbur Smith and co-authors Keith Chapman and Steve Cole.

Hot Key Books acquired world rights to the exceptional new series from Kevin Conroy Scott at Tibor Jones, heralding a major new era in the Wilbur Smith storytelling universe.

The Prey Zone trilogy takes one of Smith’s iconic families, the Ballantynes, and sets them in a near-future South Africa. The first book focuses on the teen protagonists as they set out on the trail of a mysterious predator that is terrorising their reserve. On the hunt for answers, siblings Ralph and Robyn discover the fearsome culprit: a long-extinct beast Ralph recognises from his favourite game, Predasaur

In developing the project that would become Prey Zone, international bestseller Smith brought on board two co-authors of the very highest calibre – Keith Chapman and Steve Cole – to innovate fresh plots and concepts around new iterations of his much-loved characters. Work on creating the first novel was completed shortly before Smith’s death in November 2021.

Television writer and producer Chapman is perhaps best known as the creator of two of the biggest children’s brands of recent years, Bob the Builder and PAW Patrol. Cole has similar pedigree, with a CV that includes the Astrosaurs series, Swarm Rising – co-authored with astronaut Tim Peake – and over 150 books for properties including Doctor Who and Young Bond. Between them, Chapman and Cole have crafted a trilogy that captures all the energy and excitement of Wilbur Smith’s adventures, and present them afresh for a new generation.

Niso Smith, commenting on behalf of her late husband, said:

‘Wilbur was very concerned about where African wildlife is heading, in particular the way the great herds of the Big Five were diminishing, and how important the national game reserves have become in the past twenty years. As these natural resources have been used mindlessly, the global technology sector has grown and grown. He wanted to place the future of his Ballantyne family in the middle of that dichotomy. In working with Keith Chapman, one of the great children’s IP creators of our time and Steve Cole, a very talented children’s writer, Wilbur was able to create a squad as strong as the story they told together. Prey Zone is not just adrenaline-pumping fun for the next generation, it’s also a warning to all young readers about the perils of destroying nature for profit.’

Co-authors Keith Chapman and Steve Cole said:

‘It has been a great honour for us to pay homage to Wilbur Smith and help develop his legacy by crafting Prey Zone from his characters and ideas. We’ve taken his classic themes of power, love, friendship and betrayal and layered them into a teen-friendly blockbuster – it’s an adventure that we hope will attract a whole new legion of younger fans to the Wilbur Smith name.’

Managing Director for Children’s Trade, Helen Wicks, said:

‘We are thrilled to be launching this new series borne of Wilbur’s vast vision. We look forward to introducing a younger generation of readers to his writing, through an exciting contemporary setting where modern technology and videogames take centre stage. Keith and Steve have successfully brought all the elements that make Wilbur’s writing so compelling to a new teen audience and have truly upheld his legacy as a master storyteller.’

The first title in the trilogy, Prey Zone, will publish in paperback, audio and ebook in September 2022, with the subsequent titles following in 2023 and 2024.