Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews River God [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Wilbur Smith, book 1 of the Egyptian series.
The conceit of this massive novel is that it is an elaborated translation of the chronicle of the Queen Regent Lostris of Egypt (ca. 1800 BCE) as narrated by her slave Taita. The latter is really the focus of the tale, as he is responsible for a multitude of stratagems and accomplishments of statecraft, warfare, and technology. Over the course of the book he invents indoor plumbing, Egyptian floral motifs, the spoked wheel, and bio-warfare, among other exhibitions of cleverness. If your credulity can bear up under that, the story is a sweeping epic with fairly vivid characters.
Ultimately, though, the impression delivered to the reader is that the Egyptians of four millenia gone were not so different from “us,” and Smith makes this moral explicit in his epilogue. In this respect, I find the book diametrically opposed to the volume to which I am most tempted to compare it, Norman Mailer’s Egyptian saga Ancient Evenings. Mailer impressed me with his ability to insinuate the reader’s understanding into a culture profoundly alien to modern “scientific” materialism. Smith seems to have done the reverse: keeping the events of remote antiquity within a moral and cultural compass that is already conveniently accessible to the modern reader.