Pharaoh by Wilbur Smith

As far as I am aware, there are not many historical fiction novels based in ancient Egypt. However, Wilbur Smith has made a name for himself in that era in a book series that follows the fictional Taita, advisor and general for different pharaohs. Smith’s latest novel in the series, Pharaoh, is the fifth book.

Here is a brief summary of the book from the publisher:

Pharaoh Tamose lies mortally wounded. The ancient city of Luxor is surrounded, All seems lost.

Taita, advisor to the Pharaoh, prepares for the enemy’s final, fatal push. The ex-slave, now general of Tamose’s armies, is never more ingenious than when all hope is dashed. And this is Egypt’s most desperate hour.

With the timely arrival of an old ally, the tide is turned and the Egyptian army feasts upon its retreating foe. But upon his victorious return to Luxor, Taita is seized and branded a traitor. Tamose is dead and a poisonous new era has begun. The new Pharaoh has risen — and he must be stopped…

The plot is intriguing. Smith portrays Pharaoh Utteric, Tamose’s son and heir, as an immature, insecure leader who is threatened by Taita’s power and wealth. He ruthlessly tries to eliminate Taita, but fails due to luck and incompetence. Although I am not sure of the historical accuracy (whether there was contact between Egypt and Sparta at this time), Smith expands the scope of the story to ancient Greece – specifically Sparta. This twist brings in new old characters – old in that they were in earlier stories, but fled to Sparta.

Although Taita is a demigod, Taita is kind of an annoying heroine. I only say this because he is extremely arrogant and seems to be always right (maybe I should expect this more from a demigod character). He is smarter, better looking, stronger than most of the other characters in the book (at least according to him – the book is narrated by Taita) – it gets a bit old.

Other than that, the book is great. The other characters, soon-to-be Pharaoh Rameses, his wife Serrena, King Hurotas (Serrena’s father), and many others are likable and have realistic qualities – including brashness and good leadership.

The story also is very engaging. Taita’s quest to oust Utteric and replace him with Ramses is compelling.

Smith’s latest book captivates the reader throughout.

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