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Rise of the Golden Cobra
Aubin, Henry T.; Taylor, Stephen (illus.) Rise of the Golden Cobra. Toronto, ON Canada: Annick Press, 2007. $12.95 (pap), ISBN 9781554510597 / 1554510597ISBN Paper 9781554510597 / 1554510597.

Note: Nebi, 14 years, enters battle to defend Egypt alongside King Piankhy. This epic adventure reveals a little known chapter in ancient history when the reign of an Nubian king dramatically changed the course of events. (CABA Honor)


A reporter for the _Montreal Gazette_, Henry Aubin is also the author of an important book, _The Rescue of Jerusalem: The Alliance Between Hebrews and Africans in 701 B.C._ (Toronto, 2002). The latter recounts the help given by the Kushite king Taharqa to King Hezekiah of Judah (2 Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9), when Jerusalem was besieged by the mighty Assyrian army. The sudden flight of the Assyrians is attributed to an angel in the Biblical account (2 Kings 19:35), but Aubin has convincingly argued that it was the sudden arrival of the Kushite army that forced the Assyrians to flee. This momentous event was ignored by modern scholars, who either read the Old Testament literally or simply could not admit that an African contingent could have saved the cradle of Western civilization.

According to the press releases, Aubin first delved into the subject to acquaint his then eight-year-old son- who is adopted and of African-Canadian origin - with African history. This helps explain much of the quality of _Rise of the Golden Cobra_. Fast-paced, filled with adventures and battles galore, and without a hint of romance, it will appeal to young boys, who can be difficult to tempt to read. The story begins as the 14-year-old scribe Nebi sits by the Nile with his masters, when he spots riders galloping towards them. These horsemen are led by Count Nimlot, the young ruler of the city of Khmun in Middle Egypt, who announces he has broken his vow with King Piankhy to ally himself with Tefnakht, the ruler of the city of Sais in northwest Egypt. Nimlot and his Libyan henchmen proceed to murder Nebi's party; he is wounded but manages to escape. He travels south to Thebes and eventually all the way up to Napata, the capital city of the Kushite empire, in modern-day Sudan. He apprises King Piankhy of the treachery back in Egypt. The king struggles with the idea of going to war and its concomitant killing; he is shown as a compassionate ruler, who instructs his troops to leave the unarmed population unharmed and conduct themselves in honorable fashion even toward their enemies. There, Nebi meets the spirited Prince Shebitku, Piankhy's nephew, who longs for battle and glory. The Kushite army marches north, with both young men participating in various skirmishes and learning valuable lessons along the way. Eventually there is a major battle at the city of Memphis, where the victorious Piankhy receives homage from his defeated enemies, including the treacherous Tefnakht and Nimlot. To give more of the plot away would be unfair to the reader, but the two youths grow up as they confront the realities of war. Moral issues are also developed, with Nebi torn between behaving honorably toward the defeated Nimlot and wanting revenge for the killings that his treachery fostered.

Although admittedly fictional, the book is historically accurate, generally following events as narrated by the so-called Piankhy Stela, a nearly six-foot-high granite monument now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The stela was discovered in 1862 at the temple of Amun at Gebel Barkal in Sudan by the archaeologist George Andrew Reisner. The scene at its top shows Piankhy, called Piye in some history books, receiving homage from the very same Nimlot met in the novel, as well as from other Egyptian and Libyan rulers. King Piankhy's love of horses, a theme met throughout Aubin's book, is also well attested in the king's inscription.

Aubin's book is well deserving of the number of awards it has received, from the 2008 Honor Roll of the Children's Africana Book Awards to being a finalist in the Ontario Library Association's Red Maple Award competition in 2008, as well as being part of the Canadian Children's Book Centre's Best Books for Kids & Teens in 2008. My only quibbles are the character of King Piankhy and the various anachronisms that pepper the story.

Regarding the former, it is difficult to imagine how an ancient ruler could have been as magnanimous as Piankhy appears to be throughout the book, given the aggressive tone in the royal texts of the period. Only toward the end of the novel, before the climactic battle, do we read: Nebi's thoughts strayed to the night in Napata when the king had addressed his officers. He had told them never to attack the enemy when it was not ready. Now Piankhy himself was leading just such an attack. Nebi tried to push the contradiction out of his mind (p. 221). This paradox is part of the ambiguities with which Nebi struggles throughout the novel, but it highlights the problem of Piankhy's character's in the book.

The anachronisms are perhaps one of the trickiest details for an author of historical fiction. But what does one do with ancient Egyptians labeled as picnickers, a character wearing something poncho-style, temples being nestled in the desert's mesa, and our hero Nebi rowing a dinghy toward a troopship? These are of course minor difficulties, but the words grated on this reviewer's ears.

The last few remarks should not deter anyone from reading _Rise of the Golden Cobra_. Beautifully illustrated by Stephen Taylor, well known for his work on Donna L. Washington's _The Story of Kwanzaa_ (HarperCollins, 1997), the book combines the ever-popular ancient Egypt with another, less well known culture, ancient Nubia, a civilization that deserves better recognition. The narrative flows well and its two young protagonists are engaging and well-rounded characters. My thirteen-year-old neighbor read the book as part of Ontario's Red Maple book competition and she voted it her favorite fiction entry. Aubin's novel will make a good present for a young reader interested in ancient cultures.

Copyright © 2007 by Africa Access, all rights reserved. Africa Access permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and Africa Access Review. For any other proposed use, contact AfricaAccess@aol.com

Rating: R Grade: M / H Type: Book

Reviewed by: Ronald J. Leprohon, University of Toronto ronald.leprohon@utoronto.ca

Subject: Ancient Egypt, / Piankhy / Kush / Nubia / Fiction / CABA Honor