Monday, December 29, 2014

Desert God by Wilbur Smith -- Historical Fantasy and Adventure Never Better Merged!

Standing behind me was a sailor. He elbowed me to
one side and stepped into the staff. He went to one
of the crowned women sitting there.
"I call upon you to pay your debt to the goddess,"
he challenged her, and he tossed a coin into her rap.
She looked up at him dispassionately as he pulled
his kilt up above his waist and with his free hand
worked... His belly was protuberant and covered
with a dense carpet of black hair. The woman
grimaced as she removed the floral crown from her
head and lay back on the mattress, letting her
knees fall apart...
The spectacle of sordid little people performing a
grotesque parody of something so essentially
beautiful inclines me toward melancholy rather
than pleasure.
Suddenly I became aware of the fact that I was being observed. I turned quickly toward the high temple ziggurat that stood beside the palace. The spiral terrace that rose from ground level to the top of the temple passed so close to where I stood that it seemed I might easily have lobbed a small stone across the gap that separated us.
On the temple terrace opposite me stood a cloaked and hooded figure. I could not see the eyes in the shadow of the hood, but I could feel them focused on my face. I felt perfectly at ease under this scrutiny, but intrigued by the identity of the stranger. I am fully aware that except for the injuries that were inflicted on me so long ago, my body is tall and exceptionally well formed. My musculature is honed by hard riding and exercises at arms. Modesty usually prevents me from employing the word beautiful when describing myself but honesty requires me to do so in this instance. 
Both the stranger and I stood calmly studying each other. Then slowly the cloaked figure raised both hands and lifted the hood off its head and let it drop in folds around its shoulders. Perversely I had presumed that the stranger was a man, but now I was faced with abundant evidence that I had been mistaken.
This was a woman who stood before me, a woman lovely beyond my most extravagant dreams of beauty. Her face was so divine that it caused me exquisite anguish to look upon it. I searched for words to describe it, but all the superlatives of our glorious language paled and were rendered trite and mundane before it. I have never before experienced such soul-rending emotion. Here was all that I have ever hungered for and been denied, everything of value that a cruel fate has placed far beyond my reach for all time. Here was all the glory of femininity embodied.
Slowly I reached out my hand toward her, understanding that it was a forlorn gesture, knowing full well that such magnificence would remain always far beyond my reach, but that it would also remain preserved entirely in my memory to haunt me through all eternity.
She smiled at me sadly, an expression of sympathy for my plight and deep regret for having brought it upon me. Then she covered her head with the hood of her cloak, turned from me and glided away into the precincts of the temple, leaving me bereft...
I have seen the bodies of many beautiful women during my long life, but Inanna far surpassed any of them. Her hips were voluptuous but above them her narrow waist emphasized their elegant contours. Although she was as tall as I am her limbs were so delicately smooth and sculptured that I could not prevent myself reaching out to stroke them. Lightly I ran my fingers up her arms from her wrists to the curve of her shoulders. Her skin was silken but the muscles beneath it were adamantine...
The light grew sronger still and I realized that we were standing in the Hanging Gardens high above the city of Babylon. The masses of shrubbery and flowers that surrounded us were wondrously lovely, but they were rendered mundane by Inanna's beauty. She took my hands from her shoulders and she kissed them one after the other. I shivered at the sensation that pervaded my whole being.
"What do you want of me, Inanna?" It did not sound like my own voice that said it."
"I propose to unite with you..."

Desert God:
A Novel of Ancient Egypt

By Wilbur Smith

Omar Sharif as Taita!
It is a simple matter for me to tell the
difference between these two races.
My Egyptians are a handsome people
with lively and intelligent faces,
high foreheads, large widely spaced
eyes, and finely etched features. In
short, one is usually able to tell at a
glance that they are a superior race.

This exceptional story has already been signed for making into a movie! It is an epic history war tale, but, for me, and maybe many other female fans, it is or will be also one of the most erotic stories I've ever read...  

Taita is the main character and one who quickly won my esteem. He is the first character I have enjoyed who was not only brilliant in his tactical activities and decisions, but was also sympathetic and just in dealing with...most...of his enemies...

Egypt's major enemy was the Hykos who had come from foreign lands and taken strategic areas which hampered the activities of the latest Pharoah of Egypt. The tragedy was mostly caused by the fact that the Hykos were a cruel and avarice people who totally destroyed both the people and buildings of any place they invaded. The result was that now Thebes, which is now Luxor, was landlocked.

Taita was special, that's all I'll include in my review, other than that he was at least 90 years
Suddenly I heard the unmistakble sounds
of a moving vessel coming up the channel
from the seaward direction of where we lay,
and I cautioned my companions to silence.
The creaking of the rigging, the voice of the
seaman chanting the soundings in the bows
and the thud of the oars in the rowlocks
increased in volume until suddenly an
enormous seagoing vessel appeared around
the bend in the channel.
I had never seen a ship of this type or size
before; however, I knew from descriptions
that my spies had sent me that this was a
Cretan trireme. She was both a cargo vessel
and a warship. She was triple-decked, with
three banks of oars...
The chances of me arriving at Tamiat at
exactly the same time as the treasure
convoy was so remote that it must have
been arranged by divine intervention...
old. He had been an advisor for more than one pharaoh and had been like a father to the present Pharaoh and his two sisters. Now Taita advised the present Pharaoh Tamose and had presented to him a plan to begin the restoration of Thebes to power of all Egypt. His plan was ingenious and was just the first step in moving forward... The result: unbelievable bounty for the treasury! I must say that this was my favorite adventure for Taita. His cunning and imagination, as well as his willingness to call upon his god, as needed, make him the type of hero anybody would follow...

It took me several hours of tactful mani-
pulation before I could convince him that
the danger of leaving Egypt without a
leader at such a crucial point in our history
far outweighed the glory or other benefit
that he could hope to win from a successful
capture of the Minoan fortress at Tamiat and
the treasure it contained...
However, before he dismissed me Pharoah
Tamose placed in my hands the royal hawk
seal. This was Pharoah's means of delegating
all of his powers to the bearer...

Now that they had money, the next part of the plan began. Taita had already created a major block for the Hykos desire to build a liaison with Crete, the richest country at that time. With Taita obtaining information from other lands, he had learned that both of his maidens would be considered an appropriate gift to merge Egypt and Crete--but that merger, which is near the end of the book, did not happen as expected! But it certainly does made for an explosive ending!
According to Amythaon he is a
splendid and imposing figure
who is always masked when he
appears in public. The mask he
wears is in the shape of a bull's
head fashioned out of pure silver.
None of his subjects have ever
seen his face...
"He has a hundred wives,"
Amythaon went on and looked at
me to be impressed. I adopted an
expression of awe. "The Supreme
Minos received wives from all the
other kings of the city states across
the islands that dot the Aegean Sea.
Four times a year, on the festivals
which mark the changing of the
seasons, they are sent to him in a
form of tribute."
..."That adds up to 182 each year...
"That is correct, my lord."
"Then can you explain to me how
the number of his wives remains at
one hundred, as you asserted at first?"

To make the trip from landlocked Thebes required that they travel across the desert on to Babylon and Sumeria and then, with ships acquired there, sail on to Crete. This trip was fraught with danger, as well as some interesting interplay between soldiers with the princesses who would be given in marriage Crete. The two girls have Taita wound around their fingers, as most princesses would, especially with their great beauty. I must admit that I was quite satisfied with how the ending occurred... especially since the individual to whom they were to marry appeared only with a mask fashion after the head of an auroch bull! In fact, Taita, had already encountered one of the real ones during his time on Crete. And this is just another strange incident that readers will encounter one after the other...

This is my first time reading Smith and I'm certainly happy to have had the opportunity to thoroughly enjoy my first time with him. He is a well-known historical novelist, with Stephen King declaring him the best. Of all history, the ancient times were always my favorite--the times seem so extraordinarily thrilling, even though we know now that much of what is written is mythical. Still, the stories of the various gods and how they were selected as "favorites" was intriguing, yet implied that there was some response to the humans who worshiped them. At least in the case of Inana, I was happy to learn of her story and her own decision to not interfere with the life Taita had been condemned to. Personally, I'd loved to see followup of how Taita and Inana shared a future life in that ancient land of Egypt...

Smith's writing pulled me back into the language of our past and he does a fine job in ensuring readers that we are aware of the time period into which we've escaped. The book itself has those small additions such as edged pages, relevant graphic chapter headings and a sensational map of the ancient lands as covered in the novel. I found myself referring to it often, especially as Taita and a large entourage, including the two princesses, left Thebes on the Nile, into the Red Sea, through the desert of Arabia and then on to Babylon, sailing then on to the small island of Crete. Readers have the opportunity to follow the map as each town was reached and to ponder the challenges of the amazing journey upon which Taita was leading his people. A truly fascinating tale, even though I have no idea how the percentage of fantasy and adventure stands against the realism of the historical accounts. But then, that can probably be said for much of the information for the time period, right? I admit to being surprised at how much I enjoyed the book, since I'm not a historical fiction fan, especially of wars. However, Taita was exactly the character to have allowed me to marvel at all he had done and accomplished for his beloved country, Egypt. 

If you love adventure merged with fantasy, whether historically based or not, I highly recommend you take a look...and don't wait for the movie!


Wilbur Smith is one of the world's most popular novelists, with more than 125 million copies of his books sold worldwide in twenty-six languages. A native of central Africa, he divides his time between Cape Town and London.

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