“Desert God” by Wilbur Smith (William Morrow, 2014)

Desert God

Taita the eunuch slave returns and is now a man of nobility and seen as a brilliant god by many in the fourth novel involving his character, after he took the stage and gained many fans in his debut, River God. In Desert God, Taita begins the work of removing the terrible Hyksos who have controlled so much of Egypt for so long, bringing the country closer to becoming independent and Egyptian once again.

As adviser to the pharaoh, Taita knows what must be done and begins the long journey first to Mesopotamia and the wondrous hanging gardens of Babylon to forge friendships in this distant land, then it is on to the great island of Crete where he will escort the pharaoh’s sisters to form an alliance and forge a mighty army and navy to take out the Hyksos once and for all. But fate has something great and dooming in store for him.

Fans of Wilbur Smith will be delighted with Desert God, while those trying him for the first time will do just fine, as little back story is needed. This book shows that Smith should really just stick to writing about his favorite character who grows older and wiser with each tale.

Originally written on November 14, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“Warlock” by Wilbur Smith (Thomas Dunne, 2001)

Taita, the Wizard of Ancient Egypt


There is a new magician to be added to the pantheon where the likes of Merlin and Gandalf reside: his name is Taita, a former eunuch slave, who is now the mighty and much-feared warlock of ancient Egypt.

Wilbur Smith, bestselling author from South Africa, brings us his compelling sequel to River God, a novel of Egypt’s past, where a pharaoh and her eunuch slave evaded capture to fight against an evil conspiracy.  The premise originally arose from a papyrus scroll that was brought to Smith, where these two characters were show to have existed at some time in the past.  Smith then set about novelizing this account and creating the amazing world of River God.  He does exactly the same in Warlock, with just as much gusto and skill.

The lovely pharaoh Lostris is now long dead, but her slave, now a warlock – who must be over a hundred years in age – is still revered and feared by many.  A new pharaoh, the young prince Nefer, is about to take the throne, his father having been recently assassinated and the killers remaining unknown.  Since Nefer is too young to take the throne, Naja, the former pharaoh’s right hand man, automatically appoints himself regent of all Egypt.  He hatches a devilish plan, unbeknownst to the prince, where he will unite with the enemy, the Hyksos who control northern Egypt, and get rid of Nefer, and together they will rule, abusing their power in as many ways as they can, meanwhile gaining untold riches.

Wilbur Smith has a writing style that is entirely his own.  His imagery reaches the point of over-description but never passes it, keeping the reader so entrenched in the world, that once they put the book down, they wonder if they are not actually in Egypt during the time of the pharaohs.  Smith takes you through all the emotions, even if you don’t want to tag along for the ride, making you sad then happy by the turning of the page, appalled and shocked then satisfied and appeased.

There is a lot in this book, where any reader can get entirely lost, whether it be in the love between prince Nefer and his Mintaka, or the anxious deception concocted by Naja, or the great battles fronted by Nefer and controlled by Taita.  There is even some magic in there for all you fantasy buffs.  This book, quite simply, has it all.

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Originally published on November 5th 2001.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Halloween Tree” by Ray Bradbury (Knopf, 1972)

The Halloween Treestarstarstarstar

I read this book every October because it’s the perfect Halloween book.  It’s taken me a couple of readings, but I now finally realize that The Halloween Tree is the equivalent for Halloween what A Christmas Carol is for Christmas: an enchanting journey into the history of Halloween where one leans much and is changed by it.

A group of eight boys are on their way out to trick or treat on Halloween, all in different costumes – skeleton, mummy, gargoyle, etc. – and head over to the final friend’s house, Pipkin.  Pipkin is sick, doesn’t look well at all, but is essentially the leader of the group and has never missed a Halloween, so he tells them to go on ahead to a specific house and he will catch up with them.

The house turns out to be the quintessential Halloween mansion, with many rooms and black windows.  Beside the mansion they find a great and ancient oak with many branches and hanging from those branches are many carved pumpkins, swinging in the breeze.  This is the Halloween tree, and as the boys watch, each of the pumpkins light up.  At the door they ask for trick or treat, and the man on the other side tells them not treat, but trick.  Terrifyingly, he appears from a pile of leaves.  He is tall.  He is skeletal.  He is Mr. Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud.

After the boys get over the initial terror, they are invited on a journey by Mr. Moundshroud.  They see Pipkin being taken into the past, weakened by his sickness, and it is up to Moundshroud and the boys to rescue Pipkin from time.  And so the boys begin their journey, forming the tail of a giant kite controlled by Moundshroud and they pass back through time and visit the Halloweens of history: Ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, medieval Britain, Notre Dame, and El Dia de Los Muertos.

It is an incredible story where one learns the history of Halloween seen through the eyes of many different cultures, told in the unique style of Ray Bradbury.  Afterward you will feel as if you’ve actually experienced many different Halloweens and be all the more ready to experience your own on October 31st.

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Originally written on October 12th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.