Friday, June 01, 2007

Rise of the Golden Cobra

Rise of the Golden Cobra, by Henry T. Aubin

YA/Canadian/Historical/Boys Own Adventurish

It is the eighth century B.C.E. and Egypt has long been divided, with former dynasties having crumbled. Now, the Assyrians threaten to invade and conquer both North Egypt and the South, and several Egyptian warlords have united in a treacherous plot to allow the takeover while maintaining some control of their own land. Nebi, the 14 year old servant of a man working to discover this plot becomes wrapped up in the political turmoil when he becomes the sole survivor of a murderous attack by one of these warlords that leaves his master and several other important leaders dead.

An injured Nebi embarks on a desperate quest through the desert to bring word of the treachery to Piankhy, King of Kush. All the while he is being chased by the traitors who murdered his master, who desperately need their treachery kept from Piankhy.

The story then takes us through an account of the wars led by Piankhy, which led to the reuniting of Egypt under one rule, which lasted from the 25th to the 31st dynasties. Nebi joins the army as the assistant to Sheb, the ambitious nephew of the King. The relationship the boys develop is quite fun to read. They are supportive and competitive. They bring out the best and the worst in each other. They each help the other to develop into a man.

The telling of the tale is detailed and carries the weight of heavy research and seeming accuracy. I felt like I learned a lot about these real-life events through reading the book. This was great, but it was also the problem I had with the book. It read, to me, like the boys own adventure books written half a century ago, that I used to read in mouldy dust jackets at the cottage. This is not to say it was misogynistic or stereotypical or any of those other things the Boys Own Adventure books are accused of. However, it was dry and weighty. It felt incredibly schoolish.

That being said, I think this is really good piece of historical literature. I had no doubts about the reality of the situations in which the characters found themselves. The dialogue was understandable and easy to read, but did not feel particularly anachronistically modern in its idioms. I wanted to know how it would turn out, and I was interested enough in the story that I even read the historical notes in the afterward.

While the book will probably lack something in appeal for being somewhat dry and schoolish, I think it is very worthwhile, and will have an audience in both boys and girls who enjoy ancient history, adventure, and war stories.

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