Full of sex, violence and mysticism, Rhodesian-born bestselling author Wilbur Smith takes a look at ancient Egypt through the eyes of an emasculated slave named Taita. Although there is an afterward that makes it seem as if the events in the book really happened, River God (1994) is a work of historical fiction at a little known period in Egypt’s long existence.
River God (sometimes mistakenly listed as The River God) was such a hit that Smith went on to write a few more books about Taita, even though the slave was probably about 50 when River God ended. The successors would do about as well as the initial book. They are The Seventh Scroll (1995), Warlock (2001) and The Quest (2007). The four books would eventually be known as the “Egyptian Series”.
This is an incredibly gory book. Although the setting is a couple of thousand years before Christ, apparently various forms of crucifixion were in vogue. If you love horses, you might want to pass on this one. Although it may be historically accurate to write about how horses were mutilated during warfare, do we really need to read about the details?
Also, those in the gay community may have a problem with River God as homosexuals are usually cast as the enemies. Granted, that may have been the general consensus of the Egyptians living at the time, but it may bother some readers.
So, Is It Any Good?
The novel is written in first person, which is a standard literary device. In one sense, it is reminiscent of the servant in Wuthering Heights who always seems to be around at pivotal moments in the protagonists’ history. First person was popular in order to deflect criticism. Although many novelists are able to pull off first person very well, one wonders if River God would have been a much better story if told in contemporary third person omniscient.
Taita’s narration bounces around in time so much that it is difficult to keep track of when events are occurring. Taita also conveniently does not reveal very crucial information to the reader until at the last possible moment. Although this makes a more dramatic story, in some ways is seems like a variation of “deus ex machina”, with Taita acting as God. There are many times when a reader will read a passage, blink and then think “What just happened here?” Sometimes it seems as if Smith chose the cheap way out of certain plot twists.
After reading River God, this reader has no wish to read any of the other books in the series or read any other novel by Wilbur Smith.