Book Review – “Warlock” by Wilbur Smith (2007)
|I have been burned multiple times by beautiful covers and intriguing premises.
We’ve all been there, I know. Page one starts out with a basic premise and an affable main character. The next thing you know, there are a million names, stilted conflict, and every posturing character is blurting out their favorite history lesson. It’s like reading a phone book.
When I cracked the cover of Warlock, I expected another disappointment. I didn’t warm to the first few pages, but my expectation of disappointment colored that I suspect. The pages are a vivid establishment of setting with a modest flourish. Your sense of the desert and the grandeur pull you into the world.
Warlock is an ensemble piece. Our lead is Taita. Taita is the elderly, eunuch, vizier, magus to Pharaoh Tamose of Upper Egypt. Had I known that was a viable career choice my life could have been different.
Taita had a reputation in the region. Just like a push-up bra, it opened a lot of doors for him. Tamose made him a trusted advisor, tutor to the Prince Nefer Sati and a coveted asset to any man of power. One day, Pharaoh’s lifelong friend Naja comes to Tamose. Naja has news of the movement of the enemy Pharaoh, Apepi King of the Hyksos.
Naja is what we refer to as a “piece of work.” He talks Tamose into ambushing Apepi out in the desert Just us guys style. Taita takes the opportunity to take Nefer Sati out into the desert on a quest for his godbird. Every Pharaoh has a mystically bonded hawk that represents the blessing of the god Horus.
Taita and Nefer Sati track a hawk back to its nest. Nefer Sati repels down a sheer cliffside to snatch a hatchling from its nest. At the nest, he finds a cobra and a lot of dead birds. Taita, being a savvy sorcerer, sees the symbolism of this moment and whisks them both into hiding.
To the south Naja (which apparently means cobra) and the Pharaoh along with forty of the Pharaoh’s personal guard plan to creep up on the King of the Hyksos. Pharaoh Tamose is tragically struck down, apparently by an arrow of the Hysksos. So they return to Cairo with a dead Pharaoh and a plausible story. Naturally, a naked power grab is not far behind.
From here on out Naja reaches for everything from stealing the office of regent to control succession to marrying Tamose’s two young daughter’s to “protect” them. Warlock is a great ride. It has intrigue, betrayals, epic battles and chariot races.
The storytelling was well grounded so that the magic was not jarring or distracting. Taita is a canny adversary and shepherds the Prince Nefer Sati from a whiny teenager to a man worthy of his station.
Warlock is a read worth your time.
Final verdict: 6/6