Okay, so cards on the table. The author of this book is a personal friend of mine, and I was one of the editors who worked on this book when I finally managed to prize a copy out of the authors overly protective hands. I’m currently editing the second book in this two part tale, which I’ll also review in due course when its release in November.
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Set in the Egypt of antiquity at the point in time when the might of the Pharaohs has begun to wane and lands of the upper and lower Nile have fallen under the rule of the Persian Satraps. This beguiling story of the ancient world follows the journey of a young Kushite boy, Talakhonsu, who is captured and enslaved by the people of the Black Earth during a period of major political turmoil, when the lords and rulers are frequently in as much peril as a humble slave boy.
This first installment of the two part Chronicles of Talakhonsu, follows the trials and uncertainties of young Talakh as he’s taken from the world he knows into the strange and often dangerous culture of ancient Egypt, where he grows from a boy into a young man, and eventually takes the first step on a journey that promises to carry him across the seas to distant lands of myth and legend.
Beyond the Black Earth paints a believable and engaging picture of everyday life for everyday people along the great river at time when the many splendours of dynastic Egypt are just beginning to be reclaimed by the sands. Told through the eyes of an outsider, the people and places encountered feel real, well rounded and lived in, and provide a vivid backdrop to the steady growth of the main character as he matures and develops into a man.
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While this story revolves obviously around the travails of an adolescent boy in a strange and unfamiliar environment, I was reminded greatly of the Michael Crichton classic ‘The 13th Warrior’ in this respect, which was strikingly and very successfully made into a film starring Antonio Banderas. In which Banderas as an Arab courtier and scribe is thrust, unprepared into the completely alien Norse society in the time of Beowulf.
The threat and novelty of being thrust into such an alien society with a different language, faith and customs makes it very easy to become invested in the tale, and to care about the what lies ahead for this young boy who is forced to grow up very quickly in order to survive.
What’s genuinely different and fascinating about this story though, is that despite being set within the much abused scene and setting of ancient Egypt, the author studiously avoids over-romanticising the characters and places that feature in his story, instead choosing to invest his tale with realistic, well researched detail that truly gives the story depth, and often makes the book difficult to put down.
Beyond the Black Earth is a well-paced and enjoyable read, which I look forward to returning to in the sequel Beyond the Pyrene. It will appeal to anyone who enjoys reading historic fiction and books such as The Mists of Avalon, Ivanhoe, Great Expectations, Wolf Hall, Possession, The Last of the Mohicans or Moby Dick.
Beyond the Black Earth by John Williamson
Publisher – Stouthouse Books
Price – Paperback – £7.99, $11.99, eBook – £2.49, $2.99