(Cover picture courtesy of Scroll of a Modern Scribe.)
Ancient Egypt. Land of the Pharaohs. A kingdom built on gold. A legend shattered by greed. The Valley of the Kings lies ravaged by war, drained of its lifeblood as weak men inherit the cherished crown.
In the city of Thebes at the Festival of Osiris, loyal subjects of the Pharaoh gather to pay homage to their leader. But Taita, a wise and formidably gifted eunuch slave, sees him only as a symbol of a kingdom’s fading glory. Beside Taita are his protégés: Lostris, daughter of Lord Intef, beautiful beyond her fourteen years; and Tanus, proud young army officer, who has vowed to avenge the death—at Intef’s hand—of his father, and seize Lostris as his prize. Together they share a dream—to restore the majesty of the Pharaoh of Pharaohs on the glittering banks of the Nile.
I believe accuracy in historical fiction is important, but usually I let things slide if a writer changes a few things around as long as the essential facts of the period are right. In River God, however, there are things that literally made me snort with derision; this takes the worst of Hollywood perceptions of Egypt and makes it out to be reality. To anyone familiar with Egypt, the idea that the Pharaoh’s son would be nicknamed “Memnon” (a Greek nickname bestowed upon the colossi of Amunhotep III)…well that makes you question the events described in the rest of the book.
To prevent early high blood pressure, let’s just say that the most basic elements of River God are true, mainly the Hyksos invasion, and leave it at that. Truly, that’s about all that’s mostly accurate, so don’t use this as a history textbook. If you like this book, you can use it as a starting point for learning about Egyptian history. Now, moving on…
Taita is a frustrating character because there are times he has some semblance of depth and other times when he is a complete Gary Stu. He seems to be absolutely perfect, what with the fact that he designs many of the inventions in the novel himself, navigates politics impeccably and is extremely good looking. The only thing that sort of redeems him in the end is the fact that he doesn’t get your classic happy ending. Even then, it doesn’t really save his character all that much.
The one thing that redeems River God is Wilbur Smith’s writing style. It slowly draws you in until you are hooked and have no choice but to finish it. Smith has wonderful descriptions of all the exotic settings and characters, yet he maintains a decently paced plot, something that few authors can manage. Now if only he would put in the effort to do proper research…
I give this book 2/5 stars.