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Warlock: The Egyptians Strike Back
on 9 July 2004
the original in this trio of books, river god, without a doubt makes my favourite read in the history of my favourite reads. Part 2 , the seventh scroll - flashing forward a few millennia also was fantastic (maybe even top 10). Warlock, going back to ancient Egypt, should have followed in the same success... however as strong as it was, it failed to meet the high bar of its predecessors. I would put it down to the formula being changed. Where as it needed a fresh approach & a new concept to make it a novel in its own rights, I am not entirely convinced that this was the recipe for success. the formula in question is the introduction of magic / wizardry / sorcerous powers / the force (?!). The book is set a few decades after the 1st novel (overlook the fact that taita is probably outlived ancient Egyptian life expectancy many times over!). Queen Lostris is dead, her bloodline is in danger of ending, new powers are emerging in the political arena, and Taita, well taita the hero from river god has left the house of lostris and now is a hermit in the wilderness, studying, praying and doing all things mystical to become a warlock. note the similarities with a character from a well loved series of films? cough! old Ben kenobi, star wars cough! further case study comparisons include a not-so-unique escape from an enemy palace within the novel. "these aren't the droids your looking for..."
Despite being the title character, taita surprisingly takes more of a back seat role. for this I was glad - as a favourite character in river god - his warlocky abilities in this book didn't grip me or allow me to 'believe' in the tale as much. I preferred the action to remain on the 'down to earth' characters. saying that, however, it was refreshing to have taita's presence, as with him, you kinda knew things couldn't go too wrong - especially with those powers...
A big change from river god - is the switch from 1st person narrative to 3rd person. I think I prefer the former option - it adds a lot more personality and opportunity for emotive description. with the tale following many different stories & characters it would have been hard to have a single narrator. Again, a change in the formula from original, possibly taking some of the charm away. However the characterisation, storylines and wilbur's trademark 'romance' remain strong and make up for some of the losses as such. to touch upon the romance, some would describe as too in-your-face and over powering. I disagree. I will say that the encounters seemingly come out of nowhere, are very graphic (in quite a tasteful way), and then disappear just as fast. a number of times whilst reading (as a self-confessed skim reader), I would end a page and question 'did I just read that?' and would have to flick back and re-read just to make sure. its good to be shocked now and again. There are some great character cameos from 1st novel - which I loved even if they were brief. I soon forgot their lack of presence outside the first few chapters as the story gripped me again in true wilbur smith style.
I'm glad I read it, I think the Egyptian series has now brought itself to a well deserved end. For those devotee river god fans - I think its unavoidable to get another taste of taita's tales - although beware, it is a completely different concept / formula from that of #1. still a 'gripper' and a 'hard-to-put-downer' but definitely not river god returns. Any one picking this book up afresh, would suggest getting the background flavour and taste for the series by reading river god & seventh scroll first.