Geralt's Reviews > River God

River God by Wilbur Smith
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M 50x66
's review
Aug 20, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in August, 2012

Just finished the book and I must say it leaves me in a dilemma. On the one hand it was an epic, likable adventure with love, battles and friendship set in ancient Egypt (great!), on the other hand it wasn't really convincing, its characters were often black and white, the historical aspects were butchered (not so great). The whole book was supposed to be a novelization of fictional ancient scrolls written by a genius slave Taita, thus many of my misgivings can be attributed to the "author's" partiality - after all history is written by the victors, right? His Masters and friends are paragons of justice and virtue while his enemies are evil hyenas, guilty of unparalleled atrocities. The "author" himself invents pretty much everything apart from sliced bread: composite bows, ram poles for boats, wooden tribunes, water mills, spiked wheels, water toilets, devices to remove arrowheads from wounds, flag signals and lots of other stuff. Oh well.

I like stories set in ancient Egypt. "Sinuhe" by Mika Waltari was one of the best books I've ever read. And since I've heard that this book was similar in tone, I gave it a try.

The Good:
- it's a page turner. The suspense is kept up right until the end.
- the characters are likable (even though a bit cheesy at some points) and the story draws the reader into the world of love and politics in ancient Egypt
- the descriptions of the battles and dramatic hunts are convincing

The Bad:
- the author takes a liberal approach to the historical background. As far as I can tell only one name corresponds to a real person: Salitis, the Hyksos invader. The Hyksos bring recurved bows and chariots into the game (although some scholars presume that chariots were present in Egypt before the invasion). The rest is made up. Especially the pharaohs position wasn't as strong at this time as portrayed in the book. The described period is largely uncovered in historical archives, which left plenty of room for imagination.
- some descriptions are inconsistent with egyptian traditions, e.g. Taita often praises his own paintings as being "accurate". The Egyptian painters had a canon of the human body, which means that figures and faces were essentialy drawn the same way. Echnaton had tried to change that and was portrayed with a long face and a belly, but that was just him. The paintings were not supposed to be "accurate"
- even though Wilbur Smith is an Ex-Rhodesian author, the book has a slight "hollywood" feel to it, i.e. love conquers all, good triumphs over evil, etc.
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