Octogenarian Smith (River God) is still going strong and so is the eunuch Taita, one of his major recurring characters. The cunning Taita, an adviser to the pharaoh, is warlike and athletic, unlike his more stereotypical brethren. He sees danger for ancient Egypt from an alliance between the Minoans and the Hyksos, warlike nations that have cut off Egypt from the Mediterranean. Taita must break up the alliance and see to it that both of Egypt's enemies are defeated. VERDICT What's the recipe for commercial fiction success? Start with solid history along with plenty of action, sex, and brutal violence. Mix some mythical creatures, volcanic eruptions, and tidal waves with a dollop of true love, and the result is an entertaining adventure. Smith's fans in general and fans of Taita from the Egyptian series will be pleased.—Robert Conroy, Warren, MI
Delving again into ancient history, Smith (Vicious Circle, 2013, etc.) returns to the adventures of Taita, first a slave and then diplomat-warrior for pharaohs.From a Thebes redoubt, young Pharaoh Tamose rules part of a divided Egypt. Hykos invaders control the lower Nile. Tamose, however, has a secret weapon: the eunuch former slave, Taita, a polymath genius. To reclaim lost land, Tamose, with Taita carrying the emblem of absolute authority (the royal hawk seal), must form alliances with King Nimrod of Babylon and the Supreme Minos of Crete. First, Taita leads a false-flag raid on the Hykos' Mediterranean fort of Tamiat, looting a treasure of silver ingots. Next comes a cross-desert trek to Babylon, all thirst and duplicitous Bedouins. Along the way, Taita loses his battle to preserve the virginity of the pharaoh's nubile sisters, Tehuti and Bekatha, meant as brides for the Supreme Minos of Crete, meaning sure diplomatic complications. Finally, amid sea battles and barbaric rituals involving giant aurochs, Taita, guided by visions of the goddess Ishtar, secures the alliance, an arduous undertaking because "the Minoans in general were a sullen and difficult people, and extremely hostile towards strangers and foreigners." Taita serves Tamose well and becomes "a nobleman and a member of my inner council," but as a protagonist, Taita is a one-note hero: constantly self-congratulatory, too inevitably right, too sure to survive. Smith, in fact, tends to write characters as uniformly good or bad. In a narrative that often seems rushed, key elements are covered by quick exposition to accelerate the plot, as when Mount Cronus erupts and Taita rescues Tehuti and Bekatha. However, there's also much action, battles and gore, and sufficient particulars of landscapes and people, food and drink to satisfy history buffs.With Minoan civilization destroyed by the eruption, Taita routs the Hykos, albeit still in perilous control of lower Egypt, which suggests Smith's eunuch/warrior/statesman has another adventure in store.