Montreal Gazette - March 17

Page-Turner takes readers to egypt of old
SARA O'LEARY, Freelance
Published: Saturday, March 17, 2007
As readers, we seldom know or, indeed, care, about an author's reasons for writing a book. We may be intrigued by where a book was written (in an Edinburgh cafe by single mum Jo Rowling, with baby in tow), or when (at the tender age of 15, Christopher Paolini began the book that became Eragon), but we don't often wonder why. Readers - both young and old - generally assume that books are written for our pleasure.
In fact, Rise of the Golden Cobra, by Gazette columnist Henry Aubin, stems from the author's effort to find stories for the pleasure - and education - of one person in particular: one of his sons, now an adult. According to his publisher's website: "Henry's exploration of Egypt's 25th Dynasty began when he was telling his 8-year-old son about African history. (Two of his four children are adopted, and one is of African-Canadian origin.)"
Does this make for a better book? As my own son used to say, probably yes, probably no. The fact is that whatever led Aubin to write it, Rise of the Golden Cobra is a fine yarn - a good old-fashioned page-turner with a solid historical grounding in an epoch less than familiar even to some of us well on the upper end of the book's suggested age-11-and-up readership.
Rise of the Golden Cobra is set in 728 BC, during the reign of Pharaoh Piankhy, the Kushite ruler who united North and South Egypt. The story centres on Nebamon, a boy who is half Egyptian and half Mesh and who, through courage and initiative, rises from peasant, to scribe, to lieutenant in the pharaoh's army. Nebamon is assigned as shield-bearer to Shebitku, nephew to the pharaoh. While Shebitku is a historical personage, Nebamon is an invention of the author. But both boys are completely believable, and a teenager's problems with impulse control ring true no matter what the century.
Sheb, as part of the royal family, may be elected to succeed his uncle as pharaoh, but his ambition often outruns his judgment. Nebi, possessed of a cooler temperament, is often forced to play conscience for the older boy. At the same time, he fights against his own desire for revenge. Both boys are forced to mature in the course of events, and while doing so they come to understand the importance of maat - a concept of honour common to both Kushites and Egyptians.
Luckily for readers, (especially those with an insatiable appetite for plot), the moral lesson comes enlivened by lots of heart-in-your-throat descriptions of battles.
Aubin is also the author of The Rescue of Jerusalem: The Alliance Between Hebrews and Africans in 701 B.C., which argues that Kushite forces from Africa helped defend Jerusalem from the Abyssians. His interest in the period shows no sign of waning, and it is to be hoped that a sequel to Rise of the Golden Cobra may not be far off.
Rise of the Golden Cobra
By Henry T. Aubin
Illustrations by Stephen M. Taylor
Annick Press, 255 pages, $12.95

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2007


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