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.
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.
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.