is a novel by author Wilbur Smith
Wilbur Addison Smith is a best-selling novelist. His writings include 16th and 17th century tales about the founding of the southern territories of Africa and the subsequent adventures and international intrigues relevant to these settlements. His books often fall into one of three series...
. It tells the story of the talented eunuch
A eunuch is a person born male most commonly castrated, typically early enough in his life for this change to have major hormonal consequences...
slave Taita, his life in Egypt, the flight of Taita along with the Egyptian populace from the Hyksos
The Hyksos were an Asiatic people who took over the eastern Nile Delta during the twelfth dynasty, initiating the Second Intermediate Period of ancient Egypt....
invasion, and their eventual return. The novel can be grouped together with Wilbur Smith's other books on Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...
. It was first published in 1994.
River God follows the fate of the Egyptian Kingdom through the eyes of Taita, a multi-talented and highly skilled eunuch slave. Taita is owned by Lord Intef and primarily looks after his daughter, Lostris, but also plays a large role in the day to day running of Lord Intef's estate.
The Pharaoh of Egypt is without a male heir, and Taita inadvertently causes Pharaoh to take an interest in Lostris. Lostris meanwhile is in love with the soldier Tanus, who unbeknownst to her is hated by her father. Eventually Pharaoh marries Lostris and her father, Lord Intef, reluctantly gives Taita to her as a wedding gift.
Meanwhile, Tanus has angered Pharaoh by speaking bluntly about the troubles Egypt is in — most prominently the growing bandit threat which terrorizes all who travel outside of the major cities. Pharaoh condemns him to death for his actions, but is convinced to allow Tanus to redeem himself by attempting to eliminate all the bandits from Egypt within two years. Since his sentence is revealed on the last day of the festival of Osiris, he is to return on that day of the next festival with his task complete or face death by strangulation.
Tanus, with the help of Taita, hunts down and captures the leaders of the Shrike bandits. On presenting them to Pharaoh, it is revealed that their leader is Lord Intef. Tanus has his death sentence lifted, but Intef manages to escape before he can be punished for his crimes. After the sentence is announced a storm sweeps through allowing Lostris and Tanus time to be secretly alone together. During this time Lostris conceives Tanus' first born, and before the secret can be discovered Taita arranges for her to resume her wifely duties to Pharaoh. When the child is born he is named Memnon and claimed by the Pharaoh as his own, and his true paternity is known only to Lostris, Taita, and Tanus.
A new threat to the kingdom emerges — the warlike Hyksos. Equipped with the horse and chariot, as well as a superior recurved bow, their technological superiority is far greater than the Egyptian army's. The Pharaoh is killed, forcing a majority of the Egyptian nobility (including Lostris, Tanus, and Taita) to flee Egypt by heading up the Nile with the remaining army.
During their exile Lostris gives birth to two more of Tanus' children, both daughters, but as their relationship has been a secret Taita creates a cover story where the ghost of Pharaoh sires the child. During their period in exile, they regain their technical superiority — Taita replicates and improves both the chariots and bows he has seen used to such great effect on the battlefield.
While searching for a suitable burying place for Pharaoh's body, Taita is taken captive by one of the Ethiopian chieftains of the area — the brutal Arkoun. While in captivity, Taita becomes close friends with Masara, a fellow captive and the daughter of one of the rival chieftains. Taita eventually escapes captivity due to a freak flooding, finds the father of Masara, and strikes a deal with him to rescue Masara. With the help of Tanus, Memnon, and the Egyptian army, Arkoun is defeated. Tanus is mortally wounded during the battle and dies. Masara and Memnon fall in love and become married, with a wedding gift of several thousand horses which further boost the Egyptian army. Led by their new Pharaoh Tamose (formerly Prince Memnon), they return to Egypt. With their new-found weaponry and tactics, they defeat the Hyksos invaders and regain the upper kingdom of Egypt from Elephantine to Thebes.
- Taita - the genial slave who is the narrator of this melodramatic romance.
- Lostris — Lord Intef's daughter.
- Tanus - lover of Lostris.
- Memnon — Son of Lostris and Tanus, but presumed to be son of Pharaoh.
- Masara - Memnon's wife.
- Lord Intef - Corrupt Vizier
A vizier or in Arabic script ; ; sometimes spelled vazir, vizir, vasir, wazir, vesir, or vezir) is a high-ranking political advisor or minister in a Muslim government....
who was also head of the Shrike bandits.
- Rasfer -- cruel servant of Lord Intef.
- Pharaoh - Lostris' legal husband.
The novel contains a two-page afterword in which Smith claims the novel is based on a set of scrolls discovered in an Egyptian tomb which dates back to approximately 1780 BCE. The scrolls were said to have been discovered by an Egyptologist, Dr. Duraid al-Simma, who passed the translations onto Smith to transcribe into a novel. This is a false claim, as Smith later reveals in the afterword of the sequel, The Seventh Scroll
The Seventh Scroll is a novel by author Wilbur Smith first published in 1995. It is part of the 'Egyptian' series of novels by Smith and follows the exploits of the adventurer Nicholas Quenton-Harper and Dr. Royan Al Simma...
The reader who is seeking historical insight must keep at least three things in mind. First, the central conflict of the novel is the Hyksos invasion, which took place approximately 100 years after the claimed date of 1780. 1780 was approximately the beginning of the Thirteenth dynasty of Egypt
The thirteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties XI, XII and XIV under the group title Middle Kingdom. Other writers separate it from these dynasties and join it to Dynasties XIV through XVII as part of the Second Intermediate Period...
, a time quite different from the time of the Hyksos, when the empire was fractured and there were simultaneous dynasties. (The Hyksos have been assigned to the Fifteenth dynasty of Egypt
The Fifteenth, Sixteenth and Seventeenth Dynasties of ancient Egypt are often combined under the group title, Second Intermediate Period. The Fifteenth Dynasty dates approximately from 1650 to 1550 BC.-Rulers:...
.) Thus, it is not possible to relate characters and events in the novel to specific characters and events in history.
Second, there is no record of the "government in exile" which occupies much of the novel. (Sobekhotep IV
Khaneferre Sobekhotep IV was one of the most powerful Egyptian kings of the 13th Dynasty. He was the son of the 'god's father' Haankhef and of the 'king's mother' Kemi. His brother, Neferhotep I, was his predecessor on the throne....
of the Thirteenth Dynasty may have invaded Nubia, and the Hyksos may have made their presence known in the Delta as early as his reign, but there is not a close correspondence between what we know of his reign and the novel.)
Third, a critical event in the novel depends on what is obviously a steel sword belonging to Arkoun, but steel production requires a much hotter furnace than the ancients had. Steel was not produced until 1856 CE. Even if this critical and unique sword was made of iron, we have no evidence of iron swords prior to 1200 BCE, more than 400 years after the claimed date of 1780.
I found an article on wikipedia referencing the Haya people of East Africa, which may address the above remarks about the "sword of Arkoun". This may be part of Smith's reference material. the text reads:
"The Haya people of Tanzania have been linked to one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of all time: the advent of steel. Anthropologist Peter Schmidt discovered through the communication of oral tradition that the Haya have been forging steel for nearly 2000 years".
The novel is correct in crediting the Hyksos with introducing horses to Egypt.
Another technology the novel credits the invaders with is the more advanced "Recurved Bow." This is also most likely correct.
Critiques and Rankings
"Action is the name of Wilbur Smith's game, and he is a master."--the Washington Post Book World