Saturday, June 9, 2012

Stories To Paint By: River God by Wilbur Smith

In the ongoing series, Stories to Paint by, where I review one of the audio books I've finished recently, lets move a bit away from the first two which were Science Fiction and go to ancient historical fiction with Wilbur Smith's River God.  As always, I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, with never any significant plot reveals.  Personally I hate 95% of movie trailers because they always show much more than I want to see before I actually see the movie, so I won't do the same to you.

I read Wilbur Smith's Birds of Prey & Monsoon a couple years ago, which are great naval 'tall ships' adventures and I highly recommend them. Knowing I like the author's writing style and adventurous pace, I selected the audio book 'River God' which is a novel set in Ancient Egypt.  The unabridged version from Audible (I won't bother with abridged) is just shy of 25 hours long.
The narrator, Dick Hill, was very easy to listen to.  
While not having a vast array of character type voices, the ones he uses are significantly different from each other and help keep the characters clear in your mind.  Always a potential problem, he handled opposite gender characters just fine, without resorting to grating falsetto. 

The story is told through the character Taita, a slave of distinction, serving in the court of the Grand Vizier, Lord Intef.  Taita pulls strings to help his two younger friends in their hopes of romance and a life together in the face of political plots, invasion, exodus, revenge, war and tragedy.  In a way, you could think of him as the 'Egyptian Merlin'.  

The action is quite good. Wilbur Smith knows his way around a tense battle or hunt, there is no doubt.  
Just like Birds of Prey, he is also good at portraying the impracticality of adolescent love, but here you do get a longer span of time and it is nice to see these characters mature.  There is some good depth of character here.  The fact that there is some romantic motivation in the characters doesn't make this 'Twilight' for Pharaohs or a 'romance' novel by any stretch: humans do have emotions and romantic motivation, and that is weighed appropriately in this presentation of the characters' span of life.  

If there is one downside to the story for me, it is the overwhelming accomplishments of the main character Taita.   -no real spoilers- Taita is a eunuch, which would be problem enough for anyone, but to make matters worse he's a full-monty eunuch. Ouch.  Either this causes him to really feel the need to compensate from this loss with exaggerating the length and breadth of his many accomplishments, or the author is suggesting that if you have to live life without this most enjoyable aspect this frees up enough time to master every discipline known to man. Either way, it is too much. At every turn, Taita is not only competent but the veritable master of anything needed. He is the finest artist, architect, doctor, scientist, engineer, fastest runner, most attractive, widest linguist, and more. He is Archimedes, Leonardo DaVinci, Newton, Paracelsus, and Edison all rolled into one and not one bit modest about it.  
It did get to be a little much.  

Though the afterward states that this is a true story, translated from a discovered scroll, the author is just having a bit of fun. It isn't, and there are several historical inaccuracies that make that clear as you go through the story if you know this time in history.  But that doesn't take anything away from a great story.  

There are two other books related to this one, 'Warlock' continues the life of Taita, and 'The Seventh Scroll' is set in modern times with archaeologists trying to find the treasure from River God.  Both sound very promising and I'm sure I'll check them out. 

For the Gamers: 

This had me wanting to play large games of chariot battles in the ancient period. 
Some great descriptions of battles, chariots, tactics and more.  If you find yourself building a 'Chariot Wars' period army, this is a great novel to listen to while doing it! 


I give this audiobook 4.25 Bottles out of 5: very entertaining, you'll want to keep painting!

If you have an interest in ancient history I highly recommend the book.  Even if you don't, you'll likely still enjoy it for the 'movie-style' adventure that it is.  


Michael Awdry said...

Definitely one to add to the reading list then; mind you I'm not sure I could cope with yet another distraction!

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