By Wilbur Smith
Review By Jarad Johnson
In this compelling novel by Wilbur Smith, the story of Taita, a former slave who has risen to the status of a close advisor to the Pharaoh, continues to unfold. In this installment, Taita finds himself embroiled in a swirling storm of intrigue and danger. He hopes to successfully defeat the Hyksos, whose army have invaded the southern part of Egypt for the last one hundred years. For his plan to work and to reclaim his country, Taita must form an alliance with the powerful nation of Crete; however, he must convince the Supreme Ruler of that country that the Hyksos are not only a threat to his very Egypt, but to Crete as well.
As the chaos ensues, the Pharaoh has also tasked him with travelling with the two royal Princesses, Tehuti and Bekatha, across the Arabian Desert and through Babylon to marry them off to the Supreme Minos of Crete, securing the alliance between the two nations against the Hyksos. Though he loves the Princesses dearly and it pains him to see them leave his beloved Egypt, he knows that if he does not do this then Egypt very well may not survive.
It was not until after I read this book that I found out that it was the fifth book in a series. I have not read any of the others yet, but I do like the fact that it works well enough as a stand-alone novel that starting at the very beginning is not necessarily required. I found no gaps in the book that I did not understand, and the story flowed nicely without relying on previous plot points from other novels.
As for the narrative, it is a fascinating mix of Egyptian mythology and historical fiction. The author transports the reader back to that point in history with vivid clarity. You can see the temples, the palaces, the people and the battles very clearly. The writing, while very mature, neither hinders nor takes you out of the story. Rather, it paints a very clear picture. In short, it’s very well done and I enjoyed it a great deal.
While the author describes the culture of Egypt most often and in the most detail, he skims more lightly over the other countries Taita visits. Sometimes, in books like these, I find that the author neglects describing cultures other than the one that the story revolves around, because historical fiction does not often cover multiple cultures at once. However, the vivid imagery of Egypt is present throughout the novel. While it may seem trivial, in this particular novel it played a vital role. For example, when describing the land of Crete. It was vital to see the difference in culture that the Princesses would be marrying into. While obvious, it is something that I find is often overlooked.
I absolutely love mythology, and I love learning about it, but I especially love it when mythology is woven throughout a series or novel. This is why I loved the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel so much; not only did it have an excellent plot, it was somewhat educational in terms of the mythology, which was an integral part of that story. It seems to be the same with this book. The mythos saturates the story, which is appropriate because it was also a part of everyday life in Egypt. Their religion took a more hands on role than those that we know today.
I really enjoyed the scheming and planning that Taita exhibited. There are moments when he and his friend and ally Aton play the ancient game of Bao, sort of like our modern chess. During these moments, I think we get a small glimpse into the way Taita’s mind works, in the ways he distracts Aton and leads him to believe that he is winning, and then makes his winning move. Taita is a master strategist, and I love to see the inner workings of his mind. I like seeing the logic behind the chess moves, so to speak.
In summary, I really loved this book, and I definitely plan to continue reading the series, not only because I love Egypt and mythology, but also because the writing is almost addictive, in a way. The vivid imagery the author employs serves to enhance an already fantastic plot. With complex characters, political intrigue, and epic battles, I think it would be hard for anybody to find something that didn’t appeal to them.
Jarad attends Middle Tennessee State University, loves tea, and tries to spend every spare second reading. Jarad is majoring in English. Bless his heart! Let's all light a candle for him and send him happy thoughts!