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- Washington Post Book World
"Vivid and fascinating . . . Packed with passion, war, intrigue, and revenge . . . A captivating storyteller."
- Orlando Sentinel
"A rich, compelling look back in time when history and myth intermingled."
- San Francisco Chronicle
"Vivid detail . . . Sumptuous storytelling . . . A feast!"
- Detroit Free Press
"Only a handful of twentieth-century writers tantalize our senses as well as Smith, a rare author who wields a razor-sharp sword of craftsmanship."
- Tulsa World
Our boat sped close in beside the papyrus beds; near enough for the creaking of the water buckets of the shadoof, on their long, counter-balanced arms, to carry from the fields across the water. The sound harmonized with the singing of the girl in the bows.
Lostris was fourteen years of age. The Nile had begun its latest flood on the very day that her red woman's moon had flowered for the first time, a coincidence that the priests of Hapi had viewed as highly propitious. Lostris, the woman's name that they had then chosen to replace her discarded baby-name, meant `Daughter of the Waters'.
I remember her so vividly on that day. She would grow more beautiful as the years passed, become more poised and regal, but never again would that glow of virgin womanhood radiate from her so overpoweringly. Every man aboard, even the warriors at the rowing-benches, were aware of it. Neither I nor any one of them could keep our gaze off her. She filled me with a sense of my own inadequacy and a deep and poignant longing; for although I am a eunuch I was gelded only after I had known the joy of a woman's body.
'Taita,' she called to me, `sing with me!' And when I obeyed she smiled with pleasure. My voice was one of the many reasons that, whenever she was able, she kept me near her; my tenor complemented her lovely soprano to perfec- tion. We sang one of the old peasant love songs that I had taught her, and which was still one of her favourites:
My heart flutters up like a wounded quail when I see my beloved's face and my cheeks bloom like the dawn sky to the sunshine of his smile
From the stern another voice joined with ours. It was a man's voice, deep and powerful, but it lacked the clarity and purity of my own. If my voice was that of a dawngreeting thrush, then this was the voice of a young lion.
Lostris turned her head and now her smile shimmered like the sunbeams on the surface of the Nile. Although the man upon whom she played that smile was my friend, perhaps my only true friend, still I felt the bitter gall of envy burn the back of my throat. Yet I forced myself to smile at Tanus, as she did, with love.
Tanus' father, Pianki, Lord Harrah, had been one of the grandees of the Egyptian nobility, but his mother had been the daughter of a freed Tehenu slave. Like so many of her people, she had been fair-headed and blue-eyed. She had died of the swamp fever while Tanus was still a child; so my memory of her was imperfect. However, the old women said that seldom before had such beauty as hers been seen in either of the two kingdoms.
On the other hand, I had known and admired Tanus' father, before he lost all his vast fortune and the great estates that had once almost rivalled those of Pharaoh himself. He had been of dark complexion, with Egyptian eyes the colour of polished obsidian, a man with more physical strength than beauty, but with a generous and noble heartsome might say too generous and too trusting, for he had died destitute, with his heart broken by those he had thought his~friends, alone in the darkness, cut off from the sunshine of Pharaoh's favour.
Thus it seemed that Tanus had inherited the best from both his parents, except only worldly wealth. In nature and in power he was as his father; in beauty as his mother. So why should I resent my mistress loving him? I loved him also, and, poor neutered thing that I am, I knew that I could never have her for myself, not even if the gods had raised my status above that of slave. Yet such is the perversity of human nature that I hungered for what I could never have and dreamed of the impossible.
Lostris sat on her cushion on the prow with her slave girls sprawled at her feet, two little black girls from Cush, lithe as panthers, entirely naked except for the golden collars around their necks. Lostris herself wore only a skirt of bleached linen crisp and white as an egret's wing. The skin of her upper body, caressed by the sun, was the colour of oiled cedar wood from the mountains beyond Byblos. Her breasts were the size and shape of ripe figs just ready for plucking, and tipped with rose garnets.
She had set aside her formal wig, and wore her natural hair in a sidelock that fell in a thick dark rope over one breast. The slant of her eyes was enhanced by the silvergreen of powdered malachite cunningly touched to the upper lids. The colour of her eyes was green also, but the darker, clearer green of the Nile when its waters have shrunk and deposited their burden of precious silts. Between her breasts, suspended on a gold chain, she wore a figurine of Hapi, the goddess of the Nile, fashioned in gold and precious lapis lazuli. Of course it was a superb piece, for I had made it with my own hands for her.
Suddenly Tanus lifted his right hand with the fist clenched. As a single man the rowers checked their stroke and held the blades of their paddles aloft, glinting in the sunlight and dripping water. Then Tanus thrust the steeringoar hard over, and the men on the port bank stabbed their backstroke deeply, creating a series of tiny whirlpools in the surface of the green water. The starboard side pulled strongly ahead. The boat spun so sharply that the deck canted over at an alarming angle. Then both banks pulled together and she shot forward.' ,The sharp prow, with the blue eyes of Horus emblazoned upon it, brushed aside the dense stands of papyrus, and she lanced her way out of the flow of the river and into the still waters of the lagoon beyond.
Lostris broke off the song and shaded her eyes to gaze ahead. `There they are!' she cried, and pointed with a graceful little hand. The other boats of Tanus' squadron were cast like a net across the southern reaches of the lagoon, blocking the main entrance to the great river, cutting off any escape in that direction.
Naturally, Tanus had chosen for himself the northern station, for he knew that this was where the sport would be most furious. I wished it was not so. Not that I am a coward, but I have always the safety of my mistress to consider. She had inveigled herself aboard the Breath of Horus only after much intrigue in which, as always, she had deeply involved me. When her father learned, as he surely would, of her presence in the thick of the hunt, it would go badly enough for me, but if he learned also that I was responsible for allowing her to be in the company of Tanus for a full day, not even my privileged position would protect me from his wrath. His instructions to me regarding this young man were unequivocal.
However, I seemed to be the only soul aboard the Breath of Horus who was perturbed. The others were simmering with excitement. Tanus checked the rowers with a peremptory hand-signal, and the boat glided to a halt and lay rocking gently upon the green waters that were so still that when I glanced overboard and saw my own reflection look back at me, I was struck, as always, by how well my beauty had carried over the years. To me it seemed that my face was more lovely than the cerulean blue lotus blooms that framed it. I had little time to admire it, however, for the crew were all abustle.
One of Tanus' staff officers ran up his personal standard to the masthead. It was the image of a blue crocodile, with its great coxcombed tail held erect and its jaws open. Only an officer of the rank of Best of Ten Thousand was entitled to his own standard. Tanus had achieved such rank, together with the command of the Blue Crocodile division of Pharaoh's own elite guard, before his twentieth birthday.
Now the standard at the masthead was the signal for the hunt to begin. On the horizon of the lagoon the rest of the squadron were tiny with distance, but their paddles began to beat rhythmically, rising and falling like the wings of wild geese in flight, glistening in the sunlight. From their sterns the multiple wavelets of their wakes were drawn out across the placid waters and lay for a long while on the surface; as though moulded from solid clay.
Tanus lowered the gong over the stern. It was a long bronze tube. He allowed the end of it to sink below the surface. When struck with a hammer of the same metal the shrill, reverberating tones would be transmitted through the water, filling our quarry with consternation. Unhappily for my equanimity, I knew that this could readily turn to a murderous rage.
Tanus laughed at me. Even in his own excitation he had sensed my qualms. For a rude soldier he had unusual perception. `Come up here in the stern-tower, TaitaP he ordered. `You can beat the gong for us. It will take your mind off the safety of your own beautiful hide for a while.'
I was hurt by his levity, but relieved by the invitation, for the sterntower is high above the water. I moved to do his bidding without undignified haste, and, as I passed him, I paused to exhort him sternly, 'Have a care for the safety of my mistress. Do you hear me, boy? Do not encourage her to recklessness, for she is every bit as wild as you are.' I could speak thus to an illustrious commander of ten thousand, for he was once my pupil and I had wielded the cane on more than one occasion across those martial buttocks. He grinned at me now as he had in those days, as cocky and impudent as ever.
`Leave that lady in my hands, I implore you, old friend. There is nothing I would relish more, believe met' I did not admonish him for such a disrespectful tone, for I was in some small haste to take my place in the tower. From there I watched him take up his bow.
Already that bow was famous throughout the army, indeed throughout the length of the great river from the cataracts to the sea. I had designed it for him when he had grown dissatisfied with the puny weapons that, up until that time, were all that were available to him. I had suggested that we should try to fashion a bow with some new material other than those feeble woods that grow in our narrow riverine valley; perhaps with exotic timbers such as the heartwood of the olive from the land of the Hittites or of the ebony from Cush; or with even stranger materials such as the horn of the rhinoceros or the ivory tusk of, the elephant.
No sooner had we made the attempt than we came upon a myriad of problems, the first of which was the brittlenessof these exotic materials. In their natural state none of them would bend without cracking, and only the largest and therefore the most expensive elephant tusk would allow us to carve a complete bowstock from it. I solved both these problems by splitting the ivory of a smaller tusk into slivers and gluing these together in sufficient girth and bulk to form afull bow. Unfortunately it was too rigid for any man to draw.
However, from there it was an easy and natural step to laminate together all four of our chosen materials-olive wood, ebony, horn and ivory. Of course, there were many months of experimentation with combinations of these materials, and with various types of glue to hold them together. We never did succeed in making a glue strong enough. In the end I solved this last problem by binding the entire bowstock with electrum wire to prevent it from flying apart: I had two big men assist Tanus in twisting the wire on to it with all their combined strength, while the glue was still hot. When it cooled, it set to an almost perfect combination of strength and pliability.
Then I cut strands from the gut of a great black-maned lion that Tanus hunted and killed with his bronze-bladed war spear out in the desert. These I tanned and twisted together to form a bowstring. The result was this gleaming arc of such extraordinary power that only one man out of all the hundreds who had made the attempt could draw it to full stretch.
The regulation style of archery as taught by the army instructors was to face the target and draw the hocked arrow to the sternum of the chest, hold that aim for a deliberate pause, then loose on command. However, not even Tanus had the strength to draw this bow and hold his aim steadily. He was forced to develop a completely new style. Standing sideways to the target, addressing it over his left shoulder, he would throw up the bow with his left arm outstretched and, with a convulsive heave, draw back the arrow until the feathered flights touched his lips and the muscles of his arms and chest stood proud with the effort. In that same instant of full extension, seemingly without aiming, he would loose.
At first, his arrows flew at random as wild bees leave the hive, but he practised day after day and month after month. The fingers of his right hand became raw and bleeding from the chafing of the bowstring, but they healed and toughened. The inside of his left forearm was bruised and excoriated where the bowstring slashed past it on the release of the arrow, but I fashioned a leather guard to protect it. And Tanus stood at the butts and practised and practised.
Even I lost confidence in his ability to master the weapon but Tanus never gave up. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, he gained control of it to the point where, finally; he could launch three arrows with such rapidity that they were all in the air at the same instant. At least two of the three would strike the target, a copper disc the size of a man's head set up at a distance of fifty paces from where Tanus stood. Such was the force of those arrows that they would fly cleanly through the metal which was the thickness of my little finger
Tanus named this mighty weapon Lanata which was, quite coincidentally, the discarded baby-name of my mistress. Now he stood in the bows with the woman at his side, and her namesake in his left hand. They made a marvellous couple; but too obviously so for my peace of mind.
I called sharply, `Mistress! Come back here immediately! It is unsafe where you are.' She did not even deign to glance over her shoulder, but made a sign at me behind her back. Every one of the crew of the galley saw it, and the boldest of them guffawed. One of those little black vixens that were her handmaidens must have taught Lostris that gesture, which was more appropriate to the ladies of the riverside taverns than to a high-born daughter of the House of Intef. I considered remonstrating with her, but at once abandoned such an imprudent course, for my mistress is amenable to restraint only in certain of her moods. Instead, I applied myself to beating the bronze gong with sufficient vigour to disguise my chagrin.
The shrill, reverberating tone carried across the glassy waters of the lagoon, and instantly the air was filled with the susurration of wings and a shade was cast over the sun as, from the papyrus beds and the hidden pools and open water, a vast cloud of water-fowl rose into the sky. They were of a hundred varieties: black and white ibis with vulturine heads, sacred to the goddess of the river; flights of honking geese in russet plumage, each with a ruby droplet in the centre of its chest; herons of greenish-blue or midnight black, with bills like swords and ponderous wing-beats; and ducks in such profusion that their numbers challenged the eye and the credibility of the beholder.
Wild-fowling is one of the most ardent pursuits of the Egyptian nobility, but that day we were after different game. At that moment, I saw far ahead a disturbance upon the glassy surface. It was weighty and massive, and my spirits quailed, for I knew what terrible beast had moved there. Tanus also had seen it, but his reaction was altogether different from mine. He gave tongue like a hunting hound, and his men shouted with him and bent to their paddles. The Breath of Horus shot forward as though she were one of the birds that darkened the sky above us, and my mistress shrieked with excitement and beat with one small fist upon Tanus' muscled shoulder.
The waters roiled once more and Tanus signalled to his steersman to follow the movement, while I hammered upon the gong to bolster and sustain my courage. We reached the spot where last we had seen movement, and the vessel glided to a standstill while every man upon her decks gazed around eagerly.
I alone glanced directly over the stern. The water beneath our hull was shallow and almost as clear as the air above us. I shrieked as loudly and as shrilly as my mistress had and leapt back from the stem-rail, for the monster was directly under us.
The hippopotamus is the familiar of Hapi, the goddess of the Nile. It was only with her special dispensation that we could hunt it. To that end Tanus had prayed and sacrificed at the goddess's temple that morning, with my mistress close by his side. Of course, Hapi is her patron goddess, but I doubted that alone was the reason for her avid participation in the ceremony.
The beast that I saw beneath us now was an enormous old bull. To my eye, he seemed as large as our galley, a gigantic shape that lumbered along the bottom of the lagoon, his movements slowed down by the drag of the water so that he moved like a creature from a nightmare. He raised puffs of mud from beneath his hooves the same way that a wild oryx stirs the dust as it races across the desert sands.
With the steering-oar Tanus spun the boat about and we sped after the bull. But even at that slow and mannered gallop he rapidly drew away from us. His dark shape faded into the green depths of the lagoon ahead of us.
`Pull! By Seth's foul breath, pull!' Tanus howled at his men, -but when one of his officers shook out the knotted lash of the whip, Tanus frowned and shook his head. I have never seen him ply the lash where it was not warranted.
Suddenly the bull broke through the surface ahead of us and blew a great cloud of fetid steam from his lungs. The stink of it, washed over us, even though he was well out of bowshot. For a moment his back formed a gleaming granite island in the lagoon, then he drew a whistling breath and with a swirl was gone again.
`After him!' Tanus bellowed.
`There he is,' I cried, as I pointed over the side, `he's doubling back.'
`Well done, old friend,' Tanus laughed at me, `we'll make a warrior of you yet.' That notion was ridiculous, for I am a scribe, a sage and an artist. My heroics are of the mind.
None the less, I felt a thrill of pleasure, as I always do at Tanus' praise, and my trepidation was, for the moment, lost in the excitement of the chase.
Posted May 6, 2013
I read this book for the second time after 20 years because I remembered it when I was finally able to take up my much loved habit of reading again...I devoured it in two days! No way to keep from picking it up at every opportunity!The characters and story line are flawless and the action and anticipation are on the mark!
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Posted September 14, 2010
I am a huge Smith fan, since I started reading his books. I started with Birds of Prey, Monsoon and Blue Horizon and could not put them down. His stories are so vivid you almost feel like you are part of the story. Can't wait to start Warlock, Seventh Scroll and Quest.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 25, 2010
This was the first Wilbur Smith novel I read. I never considered it before, but I bet some slaves did an awful lot for their often undeserving masters. This book is colorful, and shows the glamour, but also the treachery and hardship of the ruling class. The characters are complex, and while you can feel their pain, they handle life with exuberance.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 18, 2009
I was on a business trip in California and bought this book to have something to read on the plane back to the East Coast. It was awesome! River God is the first of four books depicting history in ancient Egypt with a bit of fiction mixed in . . . well, maybe a lot of fiction. I intend on buying the remaining three and continuing the ride!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 17, 2009
<Shudders> It was horribe! Not a single character was believable. There were times when I felt sympathetic to Taita, the all-knowing, toot-his-own-horn slave, but those times were short-lived. The flowery/snobbish language made me want to puke. I don't think you could go more than two or three pages without the author saying "this very Egypt" or "our very Egypt", and sometimes, those occurred more than twice a page. It got old quick. It may have been a good book if it was no more than 350 pages, (where it should've ended) but I couldn't finish. I'm so glad I didn't buy it.
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Posted October 25, 2006
Wilber Smith truly captivates you with this beautifully written novel. Its the kind of novel where you finish reading the last page and you want to turn it to the beginning and read it over again. Its one of my favorites and I highly recommend it! Warlock and The Seventh Scroll are next on my list.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 6, 2006
Don't believe anything negative about this book there is nothing negative. It is about Egypt brought to life in the modern world adventure in colorful detail and most of all, a great story that will fill your belly and mind.You won't regret this one.By the time you read the other two related books, it will all feel like family.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 3, 2006
After readings The River God over 10 years ago, very books come close to it!!! You are truly captivated by the story telling and are swept away to a time long ago.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 25, 2006
My very favorite author. I look forward to each and every novel he writes and have read every book he has in print. If there is such a thing as reincarnation Mr. Smith has certainly lived in the lives and times of his subjects. Cheers and can't wait for your next bookWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 11, 2005
This was just a wonderful book. I found it to read so easily and the story was marvelous. Who cares about the history being 'right on'. It is fiction people. That is your clue right there. This was the first book I have read by Wilbur Smith and I can tell you I am going to be reading alot more of his. Especially Warlock and The Seventh Scroll. I just could not get enough of this book. It does get gory in spots but that is how it was back then. The sex I felt was minimal and handled with taste. Go get this book. It is well worth it and then some.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 22, 2005
After about the first 30 pages, the book picks up steam. Incredibly researched. Read the author's notes at the end of the book before you start reading the book. . . it explains how the story is based on scrolls found inside of an egyptian tomb. If I had known that when I started the book it would have been even more interesting while reading it. Definitely worth reading if you like historical novels.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 28, 2004
Posted June 4, 2004
There are books that transport you to a different place and time. There are books that provide a convincing look at a different culture. There are books that create characters so alive and interesting that they become friends. Wilbur Smith's River God is all that and more! I haven't cried while reading a book in a while. River God made me cry. It's rare to deeply care for literary characters. River God made me care. I don't read many 1,000 page books. River God is 650 pages long, but I wished that it was 1,000 pages long when it ended. Do yourself a favor and buy River God today. I believe that when you finish, you'll be doing a friend a favor by recommending it for the wonderful experience it is!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 4, 2004
This and the other two in the series are some of the best books I have ever read. You will not be disappointed if you purchase this book, I guarantee! You will become involved with the characters to the point where you are sad when you are done with the last in the series.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 26, 2003
Wilber Smith is one of my set of favorite authors. Any new works of his are automatic purchases by me. I highly recommend 'River God' to anyone, especially to those who are looking for new authors to read. Almost every one of his books is excellent reading material.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 18, 2003
This book was one of the best books I've ever read. Some people think that this book is too vivid in some of it's details. I happen to believe its better to read such a masterpiece than witness the vulgarity and pervertiness in a music video on MTV. There are many things that seem inapropriate for younger viewers, but yet if that viewer is mature enough to understand that this has to do with history, than it truly makes it a wonder to read and comprehend. I find this book such a joy to read becuase of these vivid details. On the edge of your seat action, I like to call it. Wilbur Smith has done it again, bringing action and adventure to our maturing minds.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 17, 2003
Best book I have ever read hands down. Sincerely hard to put down and even harder to finish when you dont want it to end. You will fall in love with the characters and the history.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 6, 2003
This is one of my all-time favorite books! I recommend this one to everyone and have read it at least four times...and counting. It is fabulous! Love, sex, war, and violence...it has it all! I have read thousands of books and this is one of my most favorite ones, if not my favorite. Trust me, you won't be disappointed!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 18, 2003
This was the first book by Wilbur Smith that i've read, and the first story about Egypt i've come across. Now i'm looking forward to readting 'The Seventh Scroll' and 'Warlock.' If ancient Egypy intrests you, i reccomend it highly!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.