Well, it’s time to lighten up a bit and return to our book review corner. This week I chose a series by one of my most favorite historical novelists, Wilbur Smith. (Of course I would never burden you with anything less than my favorites)! Wilbur Smith was born in Rhodesia (Zambia) in 1933. He studied journalism but was pressed by his father to get a “real job” and thus became an accountant. After many changes in life that included failed marriages and multiple rejections of his work, Smith finally became what he wanted to be, a novelist. He writes about the thing he loves most, the African continent.
I have to admit that it is through his descriptive and passionate writing that I have been able to grasp something of the beauty and passion that can be found in Africa. More than a nature film, his writings provide the background to the many struggles that engulf sub-Saharan Africa in wars and intrigues involving political, religious, tribal and national conflicts. His ability to draw characters that walk off the page and sit beside you give you understanding of, if not agreement with, some of the deepest desires and hopes of the people who live there. He also brings unforgettable mental pictures of the lives and tribulations of the creatures that once occupied the continent in uncountable numbers. In the series discussed today, he steps back even further than his normal haunts and takes us to ancient Egypt during the time of the Hyksos invasion and a period of weak pharaohs. It was a time of a political and religious struggle that threatened the life of a country that could be known as Egypt.
River God begins the epic with the introduction of a eunuch slave named Taita. This character is the main character throughout the series, even though in the second book of the series he is an historical character speaking from the past. You will get to know him well. River God is the story of arranged marriages and broken hearts that drive two young lovers apart but create a dynasty destined to recapture the Egyptian double crown. Taita is assigned to look after and teach his lord’s daughter, Lostris, the future queen of Egypt. When she is forced into a marriage to the pharaoh to protect her father’s position, the only gift she asks for her wedding day is Taita; according to custom her father cannot deny her request. Devastated she cannot marry the man she loves; she is determined to keep someone she can trust near to her.
The Seventh Scroll is a story set in modern times describing the discovery of the ancient scrolls created by Taita as a record of his mistress’ family. He speaks of hidden tombs of pharaohs, treasures beyond imagination and the last minute switch of a pharaoh’s mummy for that of the more honored captain of the army. A man who is the Queen’s lover and the father of the heir to the throne.
Warlock is the story of Taita’s initiation into the ancient occult practices of Egypt. It is the story of how he trains the grandson of his beloved queen to become the champion of the ancient kingdom of Egypt. Smith uses exquisite descriptions of Egyptian practices of warrior initiation and battles from one end of Egypt to the other. Loves found and lost, political intrigue and the recapture of the double crown from the hated Hyksos all form the background of this sweep of history.
The final story in the series is The Quest. Admittedly this is probably my least favorite of the series. Perhaps it gets a bit far off point for me as far as historical fiction might go. It is still a wonderful story about a time when Taita is called back to the haunts of men to help his pharaoh put down an insidious religious threat and to seek out and resolve the source of the failing Nile. The pharaoh is blamed for angering the gods and causing them to withhold the Nile waters which, of course, throws the country into abject poverty. Taita takes on the quest to seek out the source of the Nile and to battle whatever force keeps its waters from their course.
Pieces of history, pieces of fantasy, ancient religion and unchanging human heart breaks and triumphs. All drawn with the skillful hand of a very talented artist.
So, who are your favorite historical authors? Do you like to read a bit about history with the characters fully developed? Do you prefer textbook sorts of stories with dates and times, who shot who and where the bodies are buried? Let me know what you think, I’m happy to poke around and see what I can find that will interest my growing blog family.