River God by Wilbur Smith is my first epic historical saga. I immediately took an intense liking to Taita, a very talented and intellectual eunuch slave. This novel—the first of the five in the Egypt series—is narrated by Taita. According to Wilbur Smith, the story in River God is real, based on the scrolls found at the Temple of Karnak, and this is why the river Nile is important in the story.
“It is safer by far to live unseen and unremarked, as I always attempt to do.” Although Taita is a very handsome man with many talents, he prefers to live a low-profile life. As his talents are unveiled little by little in the story—designer, artist, doctor, linguist, military strategist, future reader—just to name a few, Leonardo da Vinci immediately comes to my mind and I couldn't help but compare him with da Vinci. Taita even has a way with animals. He becomes eunuch not by choice but from a punishment by his master the Grand Vizier, Lord Intef.
River God, which is set in the ancient Egypt during the tenure of Pharaoh Mamose, begins by imparting that Taita is a trusted slave of Lord Intef. His master, who is a cunning and vicious man, is also the father of Lady Lostris. Taita hates him with a passion but loves his mistress to bits. Taita is also a long-time good friend of Tanus, the love of Lady Lostris’ life. Tanus does not know that Lord Intef is the cause of his father’s downfall, and has all this time think of the villain as a hero.
The story intensifies with the Pharaoh falling in love with Lostris, Tanus being condemned to death by Pharaoh but is given a seemingly impossible mission to accomplish to nullify the punishment, and then there is the forbidden love story. I was brought to tears many times. Prince Memnon is born to Pharaoh and Lostris, but is he truly Pharaoh’s son? Who is his true sire? Taita has come to the rescue many times when Tanus and Lostris land themselves in trouble. Even Pharaoh adores and seeks Taita’s council. There is never a dull moment in this excellent sweeping epic tale with enough blood and gore (if that is your thing).
Did Lord Tanus succeed in returning to the Egyptian kingdom as a warrior? Who are the terrifying Hyksos that come to invade Egypt? I loved River God. I can’t wait to get my hands on all the other Taita (or as Prince Memnon affectionately calls him “Tata”) books.
And before I go, one more reason to love Taita: “I had an intimate friendship with a dozen cats, for no one can ever claim to own a cat.” Many thanks to Simon P. who introduced the series to me!