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Desert God – Book Review

5 May 2016

Desert God is the fifth book in Wilbur Smith’s series of novels set in Ancient Egypt.  The novels follow the rise of the Eunuch slave, Taita, who is the main protagonist of the series.  I will try not to include any plot spoilers here, but there is necessary reference to the four previous books, so if you haven’t read those, stop now!  I highly recommend River God, the first of the series, which introduces us to Taita and the world of Ancient Egypt that is split asunder by the invasion of the Hyksos Hordes.

Taita, a resourceful and intelligent slave leads the Pharoah’s wife (Lostris), and his mistress (owner, rather than lover) on an escape from the Hyksos hordes up the Nile, rebuilding the Egyptian forces in the process ultimately for a triumphant return to Egypt.  The sequel, the Seventh Scroll, is also well worth a read, following the story through the eyes of archaelogists unearthing the hidden secrets of the Egyptian’s flight from the Hyksos.

I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure and excitement of the first book, grand battles and excitement.  The second was an enjoyable revisiting.  Taita was a difficult character to like, perfect at everything, immodest in his narration of his own brilliance, and always managing (ultimately) to outsmart the enemies of Egypt.  However, it was the supporting characters, Taita’s loyalty to them, and the evocation of ancient Egypt that made this book worth reading.  The second was an interesting angle to revisit the same ground and familiar characters.  For me, however, the character of Taita begins to wear thin in the subsequent novels Warlock and the Quest.  Without going to far into those stories, Taita (at 156 years old in the fourth novel) becomes almost an omnipotent character, consistent with Egyptian mythology, but focusing on the aspects of his character that are hard to love.

I was surprised to learn that there was another novel after this, initially downloading it as a free Ebook for my Kindle, and misremembering the titles of the previous books (River God… Desert God, I would have paid more attention if it had not been free and it had been several years since I struggled through the Quest).

The story jumps back in time (within the series) set in Ancient Egypt but before Warlock.  Taita is a revered advisor to Pharoah Memnon, son of Lostris, and father figure to Tamose’s sisters Tehuti and Bekatha.  This is a promising start and launches with a raid on Hyksos soil to foment discord amongst the enemies of Egypt to seek an alliance with the Supreme Minos of Crete.  This is much more in the vein of the original River God but Taita has got even more full of himself, and condescending, describing fairly obvious stratagems as “genius in their simplicity”.  The fact that these stratagems work out makes this book more akin to a boastful death bed story than the seats of your pants adventure of River God.  To hear it told Taita has invented everything of use in the modern world, irrigation, the wheel, theories on warfare, I am half expecting him to make a machine to slice bread in the later chapters.  I have perhaps become used to the dry narrative voice of Bernard Cornwell who’s characters, whilst boastful, are not perfect.

Some other points in the book grate – the raid nets 600 Lakhs of silver, which Taita calculates would pay for 10,000 warships, instantly making Pharoah the richest King in the world, yet is only guarded by three ships and two thousand men who are separated from the treasure by a bridge that succumbs to being rammed.  I’m sorry, I don’t quite follow that.  Taita has a network of spies to pick up the juiciest of saucy gossip, but doesn’t worry over much that thousands of emancipated slaves won’t mention the tonnes of Silver they have been offloading in any taverns…?  In fairness, I haven’t finished the book yet and this could all be part of the plot that comes back to bite the arrogant Taita. I have since finished the book and won’t give the plot away, but found the final third lacklustre and disappointing.

Nevertheless, the story is a good romp, notwithstanding Wilbur Smith’s penchant for unnecessarily detailed description of genitalia and teenage love stories.  An okay holiday read but not a great addition to the series.

Characters : 8 / 10

Plot: 5 / 10

Action: 7 / 10

Gripping: 6 / 10

General: 5 / 10

Total: 62%

From → Books, My ramblings

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