Book Reviews: River God and The Seventh Scroll

For many years I’ve had a fascination for Medieval times and Ancient Egypt. I find both these eras captivating and romantic, although I’m well aware of how hard life really would have been in those days. I have heaps of history books on the subjects and the stories I write are often (nearly always) built on similar cultures (which is something I think I need to revise).

Anyway, when my partner read River God followed quickly by Seventh Scroll, written by Wilbur Smith, some years ago, he was quick to tell me that he thought I’d enjoy the books because of my addiction to Ancient Egypt. However, as the books are over 600 pages each, I found that I couldn’t fit them in to my reading schedule because at the time I was reading thin books, on an irregular basis.

Now I have plenty of reading time – four hours a day, five days a week – so picking up a thick book is no longer daunting. At the beginning of the work year (11 January, for me) I started reading River God. Three weeks later I started Seventh Scroll. I finished both books on 19 February and I started writing this post back then, but never got to finish it until today.

I’m going to write one post, but include two reviews.

River God by Wilbur Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One thing I detest is a book that opens with a weather report, so this book got off to a very bad start. If I had been in a book shop, I would have discarded the book straight away. No second thoughts. However, as the book had been sitting on my bookshelf for some time and I knew that my partner would have been disappointed with me if I’d thrown it to one side so early, I continued reading. It took a while for me to forgive that first mistake so I think I settled into the story somewhere in the second or third chapter. (Yes, I’m a harsh reader.)

The story is set 4,000 years ago and is based loosely on scrolls found in a tomb in, I believe, the 1980’s or 90’s. However, I can’t verify this information and it might possibly be a publicity stunt; I honestly don’t know. That aside, the story is told in first person from the point of view of a eunuch slave. And doesn’t that slave love himself! I found that quite annoying for a while, he could do anything and everything and most people don’t like a know-it-all. But the character was convincing, which proves that the author wrote him extremely well. Once I accepted this “trait” I grew attached to him and the story then took a firm hold of me.

The story tells a believable tale of the lives of a Pharaoh, his Queen and the queen’s lover and the web of lies surrounding them. Not only do they have to battle armies sent to invade their land from afar, they must defend themselves against the traitors from within their own walls.

The characters are deep and have meaning. The setting is written like a painting on the wall – I could see every detail clearly in my mind, it almost felt as if I was living the life of an ancient Egyptian. The problems were real and the romance shattering. It’s a well woven story that speaks volumes.

I was confident that the details about the world had been thoroughly researched and everything was written in context, so that the reader would learn a bit more about a very special era. Knowing that, allowed me to enjoy the story that much more.

The story and characters presented moments of laughter and moments of heart wrenching sadness. It was an emotional journey from start to finish. It is a story that is worth the effort, despite the fact that it opens with a weather report.

The Seventh Scroll by Wilbur Smith

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The second book was a complete surprise to me. Not only did it leave the characters behind that I had come to enjoy “travelling” with, the story was set in our time – 4,000 years after the eunuch slave had passed away. I can’t remember how this book opened, so am not sure if there was another weather report or not. The reason I can’t remember is because I was too busy feeling gutted about the fact that a whole new set of character were being set in place and a whole new world provided for them to act in.

Once I got over that shock, I quickly realised that the author’s style of writing was completely different too. River God was written in an old fashioned way. The Seventh Scroll was written in a modern style, befitting the era, which was easier to read too. It was only then that I realised the author had deliberately written River God in that archaic fashion and that impressed me immensely. Only a gifted author could change styles so elegantly and successfully.

The Seventh Scroll is told in third person and is the story of a modern day woman who finds a bunch of the eunuch slave’s scroll in the tomb of his mistress, Queen Lostris. The scrolls, especially the seventh scroll, give clues as to where the Pharaoh was entombed all those centuries ago. And, of course, as we all know a Pharaoh’s tomb is laden with lots and lots of treasure. So the question is, which grave robbers are going to solve the puzzle and get to the tomb first – the good ones or the bad ones – and who will make it to the end alive?!

In the end, I enjoyed this book a bit more than the first one. It was fast paced and easier to read because of the up-to-date writing style the author used. I enjoyed the connection to the much loved characters from the first novel, but I grew attached to the new characters as well. Because it was modern-day, I found it a little more gruesome as I guess stories set in ancient worlds can be thought of as “not real” so there’s a certain detachment, which isn’t true when the story is much closer to home.

The author was true to form and blended a complex plot with meaningful characters…and there’s a romantic thread, which I’m a sucker for, so I was happy all round. This is another book I highly recommend.

Looking back at the two books, it’s interesting (to me) to note that when I think of River God I see pictures haloed in gold in my mind. Everything is bright, beautiful and serene (although the story doesn’t depict those things). When I think of The Seventh Scroll the images in my mind are darker, dirtier and bloodier. I wonder, is that a reflection on how I see the two eras?

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