Category: book reviews

Review: River God – Wilbur Smith

Hi everybody!!

It’s finally the weekend and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that another week is done. Today I am bringing to you a review of Wilbur Smith’s River God, the first in the series set in Egypt and narrated by Taita, a slave.

I was first introduced to Wilbur Smith as I stumbled across “Pharaoh” in one of my local bookshops with mum and dad. My grandad used to read Wilbur Smith, I was told as I pored over the book for the synopsis on the back cover. I knew at that point I wanted to read his books – and this series in particular.

To tell you a little of me, only one of my grandparents saw me grow to adulthood and even then only just. Just over three months past my eighteenth birthday my last surviving grandparent died suddenly.

I have known and loved all my grandparents equally, but in hindsight, I wish I had gotten to know some of them better. I had never contemplated that one day sooner than we would all like, they wouldn’t be here anymore. That being said, now I make the effort to do little things that they enjoyed and I use that time to remember them, whether it be completing the puzzles they taught me the rules of, listening to music they liked or even reading the books they enjoyed. It is the little things that count. They may not be with us here and now, but they are with me in spirit. I am a firm believer that whilst a person or their deeds are remembered by the living, they are never truly gone from the world.

River God

GoodReads – River God

For Tanus, the fair-haired young lion of a warrior, the gods have decreed that he will lead Egypt’s army in a bold attempt to reunite the Kingdom’s shared halves. But Tanus will have to defy the same gods to attain the reward they have forbidden him, an object more prized than battle’s glory: possession of the Lady Lostris, a rare beauty with skin the color of oiled ceder–destined for the adoration of a nation, and the love of one extraordinary man.

 

My Thoughts…

I love historical fiction and am reading a number of books in this genre at the moment. This particular book is set in Ancient Egypt and is set in a period much before all other historical fiction that I have read before. I found the culture and technological advancement fascinating as much of the things Taita creates or modifies are things that we take for granted everyday.

Taita is a slave. He is also a eunuch, a confidante, an architect, a military tactician, an artist, a doctor, a holy man and a seer into the future. He is skilled with carpentry, he can sing, write, direct theatre productions, learn a new language in days and teach his charges all subjects. In short, the only thing he is not very good at is being humble about what he can do and at times this royally got on my nerves. Nobody is this perfect, not even a slave to some of the most powerful men and women of nobility in Egypt.

Taita has been a slave almost all his life and considers himself born to serve. His master is the Lord Intef, the Pharaoh’s right hand man. War against the Pretender cripples Egypt of its wealth. At the festival of Osiris the Lord hosts his Pharaoh, a weak man compared to his ancestors. To better secure his position, Intef arranges the marriage of his fourteen year old daughter to the Pharaoh with the promise that she will become the principal wife if she gives him the male heir he needs to continue his line. Lostris despairs as she has eyes for another, Tanus, an officer in the Pharaoh’s army. At her request Taita works the mazes of Ammon-Ra and foretells that in five years the Pharaoh will be dead. In this secret knowledge, Lostris lives on in the hope that after his death she may join Tanus.

Five years later Pharaoh has his son and heir; war continues to ravage the land and a new threat comes to Egypt. An enemy far beyond the technological advancement of the Egyptians sweeps over the lands and conquers cities. Events unfold as Taita has predicted, and the Queen Regent Lostris is forced into exile with her son and her remaining people in order to survive. Twenty years they spend away from Egypt, relying on the Nile and the goddess Isis for safe passage.

Lostris inters the late Pharaoh safely as promised to him on his deathbed. Her people meet new civilisations, learn from the horrific losses of their previous battles and Prince Memnon grows into manhood. Finally they return to Egypt under their new Pharaoh to overthrow the Tyrant that turned them out.

Aside from my occasional dislikes of Taita when he brags about how much he is God’s gift to the planet, I think there is a lot to love about this book. For me reading is a form of escapism and the great thing about historical fiction is that you can learn in a fun way without getting bogged down in dates and particulars. I wish I had studied history more at school… I think there is a lot we can learn from previous mistakes.

This book comes third in my rankings of historical themed books. The first is the series known as “The Last Kingdom” and in second falls a non-fiction recount of events of the state visit by Khrushchev to the US during the Cold War. This is called K Blows Top, by Peter Carlson. The book is aptly named after Khrushchev loses his temper at not being allowed to visit Disneyland on his state visit, and many other hilarious antics unfold during his stay in the US.

I am currently starting another historical fiction series by Philippa Gregory, covering the period of the Wars of the Roses. At this point I also have a confession to make. After River God I was supposed to be reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. A few nights ago I tried in earnest to get started on this book and I just couldn’t get into it. I find the writing style not to my taste. After each chapter I was having to stop and think about what I had just read, to understand what was going on. I don’t mind doing this, but I feel reading this book now would be a hindrance to the progress I have made in my reading challenge.

I am not saying that I won’t read this book, but I am postponing it for now. Dicken’s lovers, please don’t hate me.

Animal Farm – George Orwell

Anyone who follows my blog will know that I managed to sneak this book into my June Reading List, having managed to get through all my planned reads ahead of schedule. I won’t keep you all from browsing too long  – a short review for a short book!

Animal Farm
GoodReads – Animal Farm

A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned –a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.

When Animal Farm was first published, Stalinist Russia was seen as its target. Today it is devastatingly clear that wherever and whenever freedom is attacked, under whatever banner, the cutting clarity and savage comedy of George Orwell’s masterpiece have a meaning and message still ferociously fresh.

 

George Orwell has a remarkable ability of understanding society. Not only does he understand it – he tears it apart into little pieces, personifies (or rather animal-ises) all these elements and writes it down in simple terms for us all to see.

I am surprised I wasn’t made to study this at school – I know some other classes did, but not mine. It’s the perfect kind of book to pull apart and analyse to death! It’s one of the few books I would argue that was written for this purpose.

Orwell’s satirical approach to reflecting the nature of our society is very accurate. Much like animals, we are divided by our abilities and are expected to produce for what we perceive to be our own benefit. Money is always short, but the Leader never wants for whiskey. The Commandments are set and then the benchmarks moved to suit when the need arises. Hopes and dreams for a better society always remain dreams, yet somehow we never give up hope all the same.

This is a very quick and easy read, and it is a good eye-opener. I rate this book 4/5 stars.

 

The Last Kingdom & The Pale Horseman – Bernard Cornwell

I first came across this series as a television show back in autumn 2015, in which we follow the story of Uthred. Initially baptised as Osbert, he is raised in his ancestral home of Bebbanberg until one fateful day, when riding along the beach with his father, Danish ships are spotted on the coast.
As Ealdorman of Bebbanberg, Osbert’s father has to take action immediately. He sends his eldest son, Uthred, to spy on the ships and report back, however emboldened by the apparent lack of numbers, Uthred attacks and is killed by the Danes; his head delivered to his father as a warning. The Ealdorman is also subsequently killed in battle and Osbert, (now baptized Uthred as the eldest son of the family) is raised by the Danes that killed his father and took his home.
Thus begins the invasion of the Danes. Throughout the first book of the series, “The Last Kingdom”, we observe as the majority of the kingdoms of England are gradually taken over by the Danes, leaving only Wessex to make a stand for its freedom.
Uthred’s mixed loyalties are constantly challenged throughout the books so far. Whilst he spends the majority of time bound by allegiance to King Alfred’s fight for a United England, in hope that one day he can take back his ancestral home, he secretly longs for the Danish way of life, to serve his half-brother and join the Danes.
I only discovered that the series was based on Bernard Cornwell’s novels when my sister bought me the DVD of Season 1 for my birthday. I discussed this with a work colleague of mine who happened to have a copy of the first book. I loved the book that much I read it in a week, using every free minute to read.
It is the second book of the series I have just read and I felt it appropriate to include the first book as part of this write-up to fully explain where I am in Cornwell’s novels to date.
The second book of the series, “The Pale Horseman” begins with Uthred returning from battle with the Danes, in which he gave Ubba, one of the men who raided his home his warriors death (Danes believe that warriors, upon death, go to feast in Valhalla). He then goes to find his wife and child before returning to Alfred, who has been told different stories of Ubba’s death. His immense pride gets him in trouble once again, and Alfred forces him to pay penitence by crawling to an altar in front of a laughing crowd for God’s forgiveness. Oswald (the King’s nephew) convinces Uthred to do it to keep the peace and accompanies him, drawing attention away from him by making a show of himself instead.
Uthred continues to fight for the King as Wessex is raided by the Danes, at one time commanding ships for him, others serving as a hostage. Peace is negotiated and broken time and time again between the two sides whilst the Danes bide their time, waiting for more ships to land and join forces. Uthred becomes impatient with Alfred’s lack of actions and at one point let’s himself off the leash, taking the last ship he has command of and raiding England, disguising himself and his crew as Danes to acquire wealth.
Alfred is slowly driven into hiding with his family deep in the country of Wessex until they at last have to make a final stand and fight, or die.
I have only given the bare bones outline here as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else who is reading or wishes to read the books. I would absolutely recommend them to anyone who loves historical fiction. I found the place names used take some adjusting to; as they are in archaic English (and not consistent apparently – though I haven’t noticed yet) some are very unlike modern names. Cornwell does however provide a reference for anybody interested in learning the names and where they relate to in modern-day England.
I think having watched the series helped me read these books. Whilst this is a genre I liked to read, it helped give context as to the roles people played and the hierarchy within society etc. These are explained by Uthred in the novels, but I found it easier to see and to have the constant reminder of it in this way rather than just a one-off explanation.
If anyone had read these books please share your thoughts! Did you enjoy them? Alternatively if you are struggling perhaps or have any questions, maybe I can help. Please drop me a line either way.
My next book of choice is Terry Prachett’s “Reaper Man”, which I will introduce to you all and review in due course!