Warlock: A Novel of Ancient Egypt by Wilbur Smith. Review by S.K. Slevinski

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In Print
One of my favorite settings for historical fiction—besides medieval Europe, of course—is Ancient Egypt. But I'll be damned if I can find many historicals or fantasies set in that milieu. So I was excited to pick up Warlock, a novel set in Ancient Egypt by a successful and established author of historical fiction.

As the novel opens, the Pharaoh of Upper Egypt, Tamose, is headed into battle against the King of the Hyksos, who holds the seat of Lower Egypt. His son, Prince Nefer, would prefer to stay at his side, but must rather embark into the wild to undergo a pivotal coming-of-age ritual that will pave his way to the inheritance of his father's crown. But when Tamose is killed on his first campaign, a false pharaoh is raised to the throne and Prince Nefer finds himself on the run from new enemies who seek to solidify the false pharaoh's rule.

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On Audio
Despite my best hopes, this novel really fell flat for me. While the ancient Egyptian milieu is certainly well-developed, a milieu does not a good read make. My disappointments with this novel closely mirror my disappointments with another historical novel about ancient Egypt, Christian Jacq's Ramses: Son of Light. There is nothing especially unique or interesting about the characters or the story. The characters do not make unique or interesting decisions; their dilemmas do not challenge the reader to think differently, but rather simply service the plot. And seeing as that the characters are stock characters, it should come as no surprise that the plot is a stock plot. Perhaps readers of historical fiction don't run into the standard boy's coming-of-age story so often, but we fantasy readers see it much too often, and this coming-of-age adventure is as standard as they come. Nothing new, engaging or unique.

The audiobook of this novel is a generally well-done production. It could have benefited from different narrators for different points of view, but since most of the characters are male, this isn't a huge problem.


S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.