River God“The goddess Hapi is one of my favourites. Strictly speaking, she is neither god nor goddess, but a strange, bearded, hermaphroditic creature possessed of both a massive penis and an equally cavernous vagina, and bounteous breasts that give milk to all. She is the deification of the Nile, and the goddess of the harvest. The two kingdoms of Egypt and all the peoples in them depend utterly upon her and the periodic flooding of the great river which is her alter ego. She is able to change her gender or, like many of the other gods of this very Egypt, take on the shape of any animal at will. Her favourite guise is that of the hippopotamus. Despite the god’s ambiguous sexuality, my mistress Lostris always considered her to be female, and so do I. The priests of Hapi may differ from us on this view.”

This somewhat blokey epic adventure / romance tells the story of uberslave Taita and of his loved ones: his mistress Lostris who becomes the principal consort of the Pharaoh, and thereafter Regent, ruling on behalf of her infant son; her lover Tanus, greatest general of the Egyptian army; and Crown Prince Memnon, later Pharaoh Tamose, who is Lostris’ son.

Taita is one of those seriously annoying people who is remarkably good at everything, and not ashamed to talk about it. He is a poet and artist, an architect and inventor, a diplomat and politician, a mathematician and astrologer, a military tactician, a doctor, a seer, a teacher, a financier, a biologist, a cartographer, and a beauty. And probably some other stuff that has slipped my mind. He fair gets on your wick.

When Lostris marries the Pharoah she demands that Taita be allowed to go with her as her parting gift from her father, the dark and powerful Lord Intef. This proves to be the best decision of her life, since naturally he manages to make pretty much everything turn out beautifully for her. The story hangs on the invasion and conquest of Egypt by the powerful and warlike Hyksos people, the exile of the Egyptians and their eventual return. It also follows the lives and loves of its primary characters.

I can’t say I got a lot out of this one. Apart from the implausibly multitalented Taita (I kept thinking James Bond), there were a few things that annoyed me. The author’s tendency to repeat the phrase “this very Egypt” ad nauseam was one of them. The age-old device of pretending that this total work of fiction is all a true story translated from some papyrus scrolls found in a well-hidden tomb is also one that I find frankly insulting.

All that said, it was readable and killed a lot of time that would otherwise have been spent lying in bed feeling sorry for myself, so I can’t complain too much…

Here’s an Amazon link.
My copy came from the library.