First, buy this novel. It is sumptuous and grandiloquent, and an utter joy to read. Smith offers detail and minutiae without causing delay to the pacing of the novel, and the fabric of ancient Egyptian society swims off the page before your very eyes as you follow Taita’s narration of his world and the complications that threaten his very life.
Every great hero needs a counterpart, a nemesis: Intef is gorgeous as a villain, the veritable mocking serpent poised with envenomed breath a hair’s length from striking.
What I really appreciated about Intef is that he isn’t some demon bent on wanton violence; he is a man of flesh and blood and simply wants, well, more. His cold smile instils such fear in Taita it is palpable; a well-crafted villain replete with a simple-minded brute for an enforcer. Rasfer is loathsome, but an excellent (if a little too conveniently juxtaposed) balance to the virtues of Tanus.
Taita himself as a narrator is endearing, he is egocentric and self-assured of his own supreme intelligence, but it is rarely grating, and given the trepidation and uncertainty he faces regarding his own life, his status, his position and resources, as well as his love for Lostris, he is a thoroughly likeable fellow. Ever at pains to demonstrate his cunning, he is also a bit of a rascal, but I think it encourages a little respect, and makes him a more realistic character, in as much as any person of commensurate intellect is likely to have a few vanities, and Taita is nothing if not vain. Traits becoming a eunuch, though Taita assures us he is not the simpering and effeminate type given to weeping and womanly behaviour (other than the frippery of his physical person).
It’s a rollicking yarn, well-crafted, excellent pacing, and ends on a resolute note that speaks volumes about the qualities and realities of the human condition. Rich in colour, detail, and imagination, River God may not be wholly consistent with the established archaeological record of ancient Egyptian society, but it doesn’t suffer for these minor inconsistencies. Rather, it is an exciting journey through the past, made all the more vivid by the clarity of purpose of the author.
In River God, Wilbur Smith sets out to weave a tale of a gifted eunuch in ancient Egypt; we get a grand adventure with truly endearing characters, against a magnificent backdrop of eastern grandeur and opulence. Young love, corrupt politicians, justice, warfare, turmoil, conflict, loss… all the big hits are here, and once begun, if you’ll forgive the indulgence, it really is difficult to put down. A fantastic novel, and one definitely worth your time.
Added 27th August 2015