Desert God: A Novel of Ancient Egypt

Written by Wilbur Smith
Review by Kathryn Johnson

Wilbur Smith’s latest historical novel set in ancient Egypt features the tale of Taita, a complex character and former slave who was gelded after having reached manhood. This doesn’t stop him from appreciating, “loving,” women in his own way, even though he cannot consummate their relationship. He is given the task of guarding the virginity of the Pharaoh Tamose’s sisters. But even more critical to the story, he is charged with leading a raid on a Hyksos fort. More adventures ensue, including desert marches toward Babylon, visions he receives from the goddess Ishtar, and danger and intrigue at every turn. He rescues maidens, witnesses the eruption of Mount Cronus that marks the end of Minoan civilization, and generally glories in his trials through his first-person narrative.

In Desert God, we walk the sands of times past and feel the grit beneath our feet and in our eyes. However, sometimes the balance of the action feels a bit off, spending more time than we might wish on a relatively minor incident but speeding through major dramatic moments. As an example, we linger with Taita over a wounded man as he attempts to remove a sword blade from the patient’s groin and then analyzes whether the victim will survive or succumb. However, among the author’s gifts is a true knack for getting inside the head of his protagonist in a way that feels realistic for the era and given the man’s spiritual beliefs. The writing style can sometimes be uneven, moving from tightly written, easily flowing prose to a sudden flurry of dreaded helping verbs. (e.g., “The mountain itself was dancing. There was a rumbling roar… The horses were panicking. They were rearing…”). All in all, though, there is just enough atmosphere and drama here to please. Devotees of Egyptian-based historical fiction may want to add this volume to their collection.