Book review: Desert God

  • Avantika Mehta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 02, 2014 19:44 IST

Smith- a master weaver of historical fiction-transports the readers once again to 16th Century BC Egypt, with all its intricate politics and casual treachery. The book focuses on the eunuch Taita-who was first a slave and worked his way up to become a close advisor and confidante to the Pharaoh Tamose.

Smith, being a masterful story-teller, spins well-blended yarn with threads of intrigue, action and suspense set in 16th century BC Egypt at a time when the country was struggling to repel the invading Hyksos people.

Taita convinces the pharaoh to seek an alliance with Sumeria and Crete, but before this can be accomplished, the Egyptians must break the secret alliance between the Hyksos and the Cretans. To do this, Taita takes the two royal princesses, Tehuti and Bekatha, to Crete's ruler, the Supreme Minos, and offers them in marriage.

Also read: Wilbur Smith gets candid

Their hair-raising journey is seasoned by incidents of kidnapping, fierce battles, betrayal and encounters with bandits for good measure. The book spares no opportunity to give gory and graphic details in order to titillate the reader's senses.

Taita serves Tamose well and becomes "a nobleman and a member of my inner council," but as a protagonist, Taita is as boring as the book tries to be interesting. He's too sure of himself for the reader to relate; pats himself on the back every chance he gets. To hear him tell it, he is single-handedly responsible for most of the rise of the Egyptian empire, although he keeps such facts between himself and the reader.

Maybe Smith could have gotten readers to accept Taita had he spent more time on the character- or rather, on more than just a surface view of his personality. A peek into his subconscious mind may have gone a long way in making him more relatable.

Also read: Review of Wilbur Smith's Vicious Circle

But no such luck, Smith's narrative is often rushed, remains on the surface like oil on water. Chapters after chapters are full of obvious exposition which gives the impression that he, too, is getting impatient with his story.

We also felt that he missed an opportunity with the setting. Considering that the whole hook of the novel is that it takes place in ancient Egypt, the setting could have been phenomenal. But again, Smith falls short. Most of the book is devoted to Taita congratulating himself on various escapades and intrigue, very little is actually written about the place, time and surroundings.

We also found the accuracy of the so-called meticulously researched book quite a suspect. For one thing, a simple Google search shows that the invasion of the Hykonos did not take place in the late 16thcentury (as the book claims) but at least a 100 years before that. And that's just what a cursory search throws up.

Not that this book or the author are famed for accuracy. So perhaps to judge it for re-writing history a century at a time is way too harsh. All in all, the book centres on the characters, their trials and tribulations.

So overall, the book is easy and could be described as 'fun-to-read' airport novel. It is filled with the kind of adventures that will have you on the edge of your seat - especially towards the end. It concludes in a satisfactory manner, with the surety that this is not the last of the series - which is rumoured to have been picked up by Harper-Collins as a six-part series.

We would give it a 6 out of 10.

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