By Wilbur Smith
Narrated by Dick Hill
This is a pretty piece of escapist literature. Dick Hill’s deep, mellifluous voice captures Wilbur Smith’s words in a 24 hour reading of an invented history of ancient Egypt.
This is an adventure down the Nile. The leading character and recorder of the tale is an Egyptian slave, a supernatural simulacrum of Leonardo DaVinci. He is a handsome Eunuch named Taita (pronounced tie-ta), a physician, an inventor, an engineer, a craftsman, and a seer. We hear a fictional story of Egypt that has little relationship to history but with details that make it a credible voyage of imagination.
The heroine, Lostris (pronounced low-stris), falls in love with an enemy of her father, Lord Intef, who thwarts her desire to marry a great warrior named Tanus (pronounced tonn-noose) by giving her to the pharaoh of Egypt. Lostris becomes the Queen of Egypt, the pharaoh dies and life becomes complicated by betrayal, invasion, flight, romance, and return.
Battle stories, like an imagined invasion of Egypt by a hoard of chariot riding barbarians, take a listener on an adventure down the Nile that reminds one of the horrific consequences of technological change in the outcome of war in the history of nations. The barbarians, with the use of chariots, overwhelm the standing armies of the Pharaoh because of their speed and maneuverability. Details of war’s innovation, like a perfected hand strung bow made by Taita for Tanus that flings arrows farther; graphic descriptions of the ramming bulwark of the Breath of Horus that sinks ships and sails the Nile, and the depiction of the consequence of an unexpected disease, the yellow strangler, on an enemy’s horses; all are details that illustrate Smith’s story telling prowess. Added to this litany of details is an underlying theme that chance, as well as technology, turns the fate of battles from losing to winning, or the reverse.
Wilbur Smith’s creation of characters like Lord Intef and his villainous, savage deeds draw the listener into an evil combat that is satisfyingly won by Tanus’ leadership and strength; and the intelligence and stealth of Queen Lostris’ slave, Taita. Lord Intef is a brilliant arch villain that orders the brutal castration of a slave, hoodwinks a Pharaoh, builds a personal fortune but fails to triumph over good.
The romance between Tanus and Lostris is beautifully told without salacious titillation but with sweet and clever invention, aided by a slave’s skill as a seer and the birth of an heir to the throne.
No threads of the story are lost but every thread is twisted at its end; a Pharaoh dies but is replaced by an illegitimate heir, a hero wins a war but is killed in the final battle; a slave is freed but remains a slave.
All in all, a satisfying tale to listen to on long walks.