Throughout antiquity Egypt was a land of hundreds of tiny villages, with constantly warring tribes, loosely divided between Upper and
Lower Egypt. Then, in the space of a few extraordinary decades, the impossible happened. An incredible man, King Narmer (also known as Menes), united Upper and Lower Egypt.
The First Pharaoh is the story of Narmer and his epic journey, seen through his eyes and those of his Chief Scribe, the shaman Anhotek. We experience the culture Narmer lived in and shaped, the battles he fought to unite his people, the woman he loved and nearly lost, the enemies even in his own court who plotted against him, and his many successes and painful failures. Above all, we see how Narmer’s loving relationship with Anhotek defined his personal vision for his country and its people.
"It has long been said that fools scheme and gods laugh." -- Anhotek
This story is split between narratives by Anhotek and Narmer. I found the Anhotek narrative more engaging than the Narmer one. I felt that Narmer was mostly being advised on things versus actually doing things for himself after the Battle of Dep. He did not have many original ideas for himself. The Battle of Dep was exciting, but afterwards there was not much that the King did. Things were heard of after the fact. I think this book could have been much longer and more engaging. So many things could have been explored.
I liked how Picker would take the time to think through moments that were troublesome for Narmer. I thought his journeys of self-discovery were very insightful and enduring. However, these could have been sandwiched between a little more hands-on action by Narmer (infiltrating one of Mersyankh's schemes or something more of Neter-Maat's marriage -- why was it brought up at all since nothing came up after the mention of it). I also wanted more from the societies. Things were very closely centered around Narmer. One of the last lucid conversations we get from Narmer is with his son and a mistake he must learn to correct. Unfortunately, we never go back to learn how this mistake is fixed. The author gives us the fact that Narmer is now letting things go and trusting his son. And this story is about Narmer's journey, not his son's. I would have liked more however. It was all well-written with an enjoyable narrative that kept you interested.
"Each of our elders lives inside us, reminding us of our past, lighting the path ahead of us with their wisdom." -- Meruka
I saw a few mergings of religious beliefs in the book. While I've never heard of "Anubis' river" as mentioned in one passage, I actually thought of this reference as an early allusion to Hades and the River Stix. And I can imagine how this "Anubis river" developed later into the beliefs of a river journey the pharaoh would take on Ra's boat after death. One of my favorite descriptives, though, was how Anhotek compares Me'ka'el's religious beliefs to Kem's. It was a beautiful way to look at differences as actually being all parts to the same whole.
"One thing you must understand is that no all gifts are easy to bear. The most cherished gifts of all are both blessings and curses." --Anhotek
I did find inaccuracies in the story including the way names were spelled and random characters in front of or behind a word. One inconsistency was Hor-Aha vs. Hor-aha. However, this was e-published through Createspace, which is a self-publishing site and is why there are e-print errors (as there are no professional editors going over things with a fine-tooth comb). So I did not let these minor errors distract me from the story.
"It is an odd thing, raising a child. We go through the difficult process of growing up ourselves and so think ourselves able to turn around and grow our children, as if one had anything to do with the other... Youth believe with all the passions of their ba that they are not mortal. They see with only one set of eyes... eyes that only see forward. Adults have gained the use of the other set, the one that looks backwards at life's experiences." -- Narmer
I thought perhaps a few inventions of the storyline were too modern by ancient Egyptian standards. While they did begin agricultural water management during King Scorpion's time, I believe the taxation of farmers based on water levels was enacted in a much later dynasty.
"... many barriers we face are there only because we choose to see them as such."
In the end, I enjoyed this escape into what life might have been like for the first pharaoh of a united egypt and learning about what might have weighed on his heart, his reign, and his beliefs. There were some beautiful passages in this story. I especially enjoyed reading about Narmer's love for his wife and their thoughtful moments together (not so much their physical exploits). I liked the way the book ended in the final chapter. It was poignant and touching and a good reflection on all Narmer had discovered about his life and himself. He was at peace with not only his life but also at peace with his father. He learned that the good and the bad moments of his life shaped him into the great ruler that he became for his country.
"We are not only of the gods, but also part of them." -- Narmer
Just released December 2016: "The Forgotten" volume 2 "Heir of the Heretic"
Reviewed and awarded the
2016 Indie Editor's Choice
by the Historical Novel Society.
Long listed for the Historical Novel Society 2017 Indie Award.
Goodreads profile at: https://www.goodreads.com/JElse