Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Ave, New York
New York 10010
Summary: Sir Nicholas Quenton-Harper and Egyptologist Royan Al Simma unravel an ancient coded scroll to discover the tomb of an Egyptian Pharaoh (Mamose).
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 7/27/2008
Novels by Wilbur Smith are history and geography lessons with a touch of the “what if” factor. THE SEVENTH SCROLL is no exception. The “what if” in this instance is a throw-back to the 1930s when the British ruled the world and avarice could indeed be a sport. The events of this novel however take place in modern times, smugglers are at the top of the social-politico food chain and, in the absence of logic, love is complicated. THE SEVENTH SCROLL is a 742 page (paperback edition) escape adventure for summer reading. It is the true fiction aficionado’s verison of the comparatively light-weight THE DA VINCI CODE.
The characters: Royan Al Simma is an Egyptologist and Coptic Christian living in the Egypt whose husband is murdered in the opening pages. The typical all-powerful, omnipresent evil-doers are after the secrets of a four thousand year old manuscript written by one Taita. Taita is fond of riddles and cryptograms and his writings describing the burial and location of the tomb of Pharaoh Mamose the Eighth is filled with riddles and cryptograms. Royan is able to decipher the writings. Scant good it does her however since, her husband has been killed and the people from the Minister of Culture and Tourism, for whom her husband and herself worked, were not interested in the pet-project of hunting for a questionable tomb. So Royan head off to England and finds. . .
A digression. In Egypt, there is a bureaucracy called the Supreme Council of Antiquities headed by Dr. Zahi Hawass, whose title is Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities-the Egyptian Antiquities Authority. If you have watched the Discovery or History cable Channels, you have certainly seen him. In Smith’s book, there is no character you can point to as a Hawass look-alike, but that Minister of Culture and Tourism in the novel smells a lot like the Egyptian Antiquities Authority. The key to unraveling the total possible import of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority is the word “authority”. Not only does the Egyptian Antiquities Authority safe-guard Egypt’s ancient artifacts, it also determines what is real and what is delusional. End of this discussion. Well, except to say that any “authority” that shoots down delusions can also perpetuate its own delusions.
In England, Royan meets Sir Nicholas Quenton-Harper-Nicky, for short-a stakeholder in the Lords of London, inheritor of a fabulous estate and just an all around rich guy who has a passion for collecting ancient odds and ends. Royan convinces him that the Taita scroll gives all the directions needed to unearth the tomb of Pharaoh Mamose and its accompanying riches. And the adventure kicks into high gear.
What makes THE SEVENTH SCROLL so readable is not necessarily the adventure, but the snippets of history and geography thrown into the mix. Some of this history of course is just outright, delightful fabrication. There never was a Pharaoh Mamose for instance, though his supposed rule occurred during the invasion of Egypt by the Hyksos hordes who were very real though not historically defined. In a brilliant piece of literary license expression, Smith make a church venerating St. Frumentius, founder of Christianity in Ethiopia, as the possible repository of a tomb. Royan and Nicky get very close to succeeding in the their quest, but there is . . .
The evil genius-villain, Herr von Shiller and his Pegasus corporation. He is more or less the evil twin Nicky, though von Shiller, as evil is wont to do, fought his way pass the age of seventy while Sir Nicholas is a comparative pup in his forties. The comparison between the two characters is what glues the undercurrents of THE SEVENTH SCROLL together. Indeed, Royan’s murder husband-killed in the first couple of pages-is sort of the character template on which the villain and hero are drawn. Duraid, the murdered husband, was a man passionate in his quest for knowledge, just as Sir Nicolas and von Shiller are passionate in their quest for riches. Sir Nicholas is changed by his passion, von Shiller destroyed by his. The elements of good fiction.
Finally, another character who slithers through the pages of the novel is the author himself. It seems that Wilbur Smith wrote a novel based on the scrolls of Taita. Throughout THE SEVENTH SCROLL, Royan, Nicky and von Shiller comment on veracity, or lack thereof, of Smith’s novel describing the relationships between Taita and, Pharaoh Mamose and the people around them. This little literary device by the author of injecting himself into the story adds to the “suspension of belief” needed for the story. A bit tacky, one might opinion, but it works.
This novel is highly recommended if you enjoy reading history and adventure stories.