River God by Wilbur Smith is an epic novel that centers on the lives of three people who live in ancient Egypt â€“ Taita, Lady Lostris, and Tanus. The story is written from the perspective of Taita, a slave who is owned by an Egyptian noble and eventually given to Lady Lostris.
Here is a summary of the book from the author’s website:
Ancient Egypt. Land of the Pharaohs. A kingdom built on gold. A legend shattered by greed… Now the Valley of the Kings lies ravaged by war, drained of its lifeblood, as weak men inherit the cherished crown.
City of Thebes. The Festival of Osiris. Loyal subjects of the Pharaoh gather to pay homage to their leader, but Taita â€“ a wise and formidably gifted eunuch slave â€“ sees him only as a symbol of a kingdom’s fading glory. Beside Taita stand his protÃ©gÃ©s: Lostris, daughter of Lord Intef, beautiful beyond her fourteen years; and Tanus, proud young army officer, whose father was betrayed by Lord Intef, Chief Vizier of Egypt whose power is second in wealth only to the Pharaoh.
Tanus and Lostris are deeply in love, but unbeknown to them, their union is an impossibility. Taita is the slave of Lord Intef. It was Intef who had Taita gelded as a young boy after he found that he had slept with a young slave girl. Together Taita, Lostris and Tanus share a dream â€“ to restore the majesty of the Pharaoh of Pharaohs on the glittering banks of the Nile.
Smith does an excellent job of transporting you back in time. You understand the immense importance of the Nile in the life of Egypt- the river served as the major transportation route for the country and literally the food source. In addition, Smith describes in rich detail the culture of ancient Egypt- everything from how the tombs of the pharaohs were made to their medicinal practices.
The character development is great for Taita, but the other characters are not flushed out nearly as well. The portrayal of Taita is a bit annoying â€“ he seems to know a lot about everything. At first, this is intriguing, but it eventually becomes unbelievable because of all of the things that he claims to have invented â€“ everything from spoked wheels to bilge pumps for boats. Of course, I may be taking Taitus’ character entirely too seriously.
Although Taita’s character is thoroughly flushed out, Lady Lostris and Tanus are not nearly as well rounded. You pick up pieces of their personalities â€“ Tanus’ loyalty and Lostris’ sharp mind â€“ but otherwise they are just supporters in Taita’s tale.
Despite some irregularities in historical accuracy, the book tells a fine tale. The drama and scope of the book is phenomenal. The panoramic view of Egypt at that time is awe-inspiring â€“ from the mountains of Cush to the dry deserts and lush riverbanks of the Nile in the Upper Kingdom.
I look forward to reading the adventures of Taita in the next book.
I went through a Wilbur Smith period, years back. He’s a great storyteller, but in the end I found his fondness for describing acts of cruelty in exquisite detail, off-putting. Your mileage may vary.
I agree that Smith is a little too graphic with his descriptions of cruelty – I found myself just skipping the paragraphs that described the acts.