The story of Taita and Meren continues...
The Quest is the fourth in Smith's Egyptian series and follows the adventures of Taita (a Magus or magician) and his faithful warrior sidekick, Meren. Their quest is to discover the cause of the plagues and pestilence that has beset Egypt and what is preventing the Nile from flowing. But that is not where the story begins; rather this storyline is preceded by many pages dedicated to the travelling to a temple in Africa where Taita undergoes surgery to open his Inner Eye (a particularly gruesome and unpleasant procedure) and the subsequent arduous journey back to Egypt.
Smith delights in the journey across all manner of strange lands and wilderness, as Taita, Meren and a contingent of soldiers make their way towards the head of the Nile. Along the way, they meet friends, foes and Fenn who is Queen Lostris' reincarnation. There are battles, skirmishes, pestilence, sickness and the inevitable deaths. Soon Taita finds himself at the head of a small band of men deep in unfamiliar and dangerous territory and the power of Eos (the witch who is the cause of all their problems) steadily increasing as he draws ever nearer to her lair.
Full of herbal remedying, strange incantations and the bizarre transference of knowledge through "coupling" (of which there is a fair amount); The Quest is perfunctory in its depiction of sex, lust and love, combining at times all three. As for the magical elements, they are a mixture of outright witchery, supersticious beliefs and perhaps a lot of luck... Taita is no Harry Potter.
Surprisingly, the book works as a standalone read, even if the early portion of the book is somewhat disorientating and difficult if you have not read the previous books. Smith is wonderfully colourful in his descriptions of both the ever changing countryside and the characters that are drawn into Eos' tangled web. Most intriguing is Smith's forray into ethical values - as it would appear the use of stem cells or some other medical advancement is being utilised by Eos' followers to alter man and beast... his position is clear: there is a line that should not be crossed. It is interesting that he felt the compunction to add this flavour to the book.
An epic book, this will take some time to digest but that does not make it any less enthralling or engrossing. You may tire of it at times, but the build up in pace and action will keep you returning time and time again to satiate your appetite for more. Smith has a unique and powerful voice.
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012