by Wilbur Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Received for review from Amazon Vine
Prolific author Wilbur Smith’s latest novel, “Desert God: A Novel of Ancient Egypt” (William Morrow 2014), is the third in his series about Taita, former-slave turned adviser to a Pharaoh. The novel opens as a land-locked Egypt fights for survival against the barbarian Hyksos. Through this first person account, we see how Taita analyzes threats, assesses options, and crafts solutions that invariably work out. Even the surprise ending is a win for Taita as he masterfully turns disaster into success.
I love historic fiction, done well, it’s a perfect blend of a plot-driven ‘history mystery’ and a peek into how people led their lives long before machines did it for us. With dozens of books to his credit, Wilbur Smith is a master if this genre. His voice is forthright and clear with a strong sense of place and time.
The main character in “Desert God”, Taita, is fascinating. He is full of confidence, brilliant, and an extraordinary problem solver. When he is working on a problem, the story becomes a procedural on how he reaches brilliant solutions. Taita is like the heroes I love in thrillers, but lacking the flaws, insecurities, and broken dreams that usually accompany them. Despite this, Taita has an objective acceptance of his superior skills–
“It always surprises me how a few kind words from me are treasured by even the lowliest members of our entourage. One often forgets how one is revered by others less talented than oneself.”
“I often think that I am too forbearing with those who are not as sharp-witted as I am.”
“Modesty usually prevents me from employing the word beautiful when describing myself, but honesty requires me to do so in this instance.”
While he lacks humility, he also avoids hubris.
Noticeably missing in this story was an inciting incident–a crisis around which the plot revolved. The first third of “Desert God” could have been a simple summary of the Egyptian dynasty tightly constrained to Taita’s version of a noble life. Because of his super-human skills (a trait that is explained toward the end of the book), he is not a particularly reliable narrator for an historic novel. It took at least a third of this four hundred-plus page book to find the plot. I won’t tell you what it is, but it surprised me.
Wilbur Smith, with over 125 books to his resume and 125 million fans in 26 languages, is a good find. Overall, “Desert God” is a good mix of history and plotting. I never felt like it was too narrative or pedantic. I’ve already ordered the two prequels to Desert God (which Amazon reviews say are better than this one–I can’t wait).
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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics.