"Warlock" is about a young Egyptian pharaoh and his magician mentor as they struggle to win back the crown from a traitor and usurper. "Warlock" is about Nefer, a young pharaoh of Egypt and his mentor, an ancient warlock named Taita. In the story, Nefer lives in the time when Lower Egypt had been conquered by a tribe of foreign invaders known as the Hyksos. Nefer must find a way to reunite the two halves of Egypt and reclaim his birthright, the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, all the while contesting with ambitious traitors within his own faction.
In the beginning of the story, crown prince Nefer goes into the desert with Taita to find his godbird, a royal falcon that will give him the right to be ordained as pharaoh, even though he has not yet reached his majority. But seeking the godbird is only a cover. Taita the warlock suspects one of the kings most powerful generals, Naja the cobra, of treachery. His hunch turns out to be correct, because while Taita and Nefer are in the desert, Naja murders his king, Nefer's father Pharaoh Tamose, blaming the incident on a non-existent Hyksosian attack. Taita learns of Pharaoh Tamose's death through divination and tries to smuggle Nefer out of Egypt to avoid Naja's grasp. Unfortunately, Naja is one step ahead of him. The traitor declares himself royal regent, and sends the Egyptian cavalry into the desert to find Nefer and bring him back to Thebes.
With Nefer safely under his control, Naja begins consolidating his power. He marries Nefer's two younger sisters, tying himself to the royal line, and he forges an alliance with Apepi, the Hyksosian ruler of Lower Egypt. But his ambitions run deeper still. After the alliance is forged Naja conspires with his cousin, Trok, a captain in Apepi's army, who murders Apepi and his family by burning them alive in a boat on the return journey to the northern capital. Trok is then declared the new pharaoh of Lower Egypt, marrying Apepi's only surviving daughter, Mintaka. The only thing that now stands in the way of Naja'a crown is Nefer, who has conveniently been badly wounded during a lion hunt.
Sensing the growing threat to his beloved king, Taita contrives to extricate Nefer from the clutches of the cobra by faking his death. Back in the desert, Nefer recovers quickly from the lion wounds, but now he is faced with the difficult task of taking back his crown from Naja, who has declared himself the new pharaoh of Upper Egypt. First, he is determined to save his love, Mintaka, from her unwanted marriage to Trok. Disguised as carpet merchants, Nefer and Taita sneak into Trok's capital at Avaris and steal Mintaka away in one of their rugs. Trok catches on too quickly and pursues the fugitives into the desert. It is only the timely arrival of a deadly sandstorm that saves them from the false pharaoh's might.
Apparently unperturbed by the growing threat that Nefer poses, Naja and Trok take their armies out of Egypt to conquer the golden city of Babylon. With his future queen in hand, Nefer uses this opportunity to grow his army by attracting rebels and deserters from the armies of the false pharaohs. There is only one problem: Nefer is not yet old enough to be ordained pharaoh in his own right and he lacks the authority and respect he needs to bring the army together. Having already failed to catch his godbird, Nefer decides to run the Red Road, a deadly sort of obstacle course race that, if completed successfully, will allow him to be inducted into a sacred brotherhood of warriors and claim his crown before he reaches his majority.
After months of preparation, Nefer finishes the race by the skin of his teeth and takes up the crown. As a new Red Road Warrior, Nefer's reputation grows and new soldiers begin to flock to his banner. But by this time, Trok and Naja have conquered Babylon, and now Trok is free to return to Egypt and confront Nefer and take back his stolen wife. Through the divining skills of Taita, Nefer sees this threat approaching and is able to lure Trok into a trap and destroy his army.
In Babylon, Naja hears of Trok's defeat and decides that it is time to return to Egypt to confront the fledgling king. Once again, the wisdom of Taita prevails. By destroying Naja's supply dumps, they force his army to cross the Sinai Peninsula without water and then to face them on a field that they have prepared to eliminate the advantage of Naja's many chariots. In the end, Naja and his army are destroyed by the defection of his own rear guard commander, who just happens to be Mintaka's uncle.
Best part of story, including ending:
"Warlock" is an exciting page-turner. The action sequences are brilliant. They keep you on the edge of your seat all of the way through. The setting is also relatively historically accurate, and at least one of the main characters is an actual historical figure. This story is simple to understand and relatively predictable. However, while the action and the history are good, the characters are underdeveloped, and the author seems to struggle with the show-don't-tell concept. Throughout the book I found myself being spoon fed the characters emotions, beliefs, and motivations, which take away a little from the masterfully crafted plot.
Best scene in story:
The best part of the story is definitely Nefer's running of the Red Road. The preparations leading up to the trail build the suspense masterfully. To add to the reader's curiosity, the rules of event are not revealed until it actually begins. Then, during the run, Nefer and his partner are pushed to the limit of their capabilities again and again. The reader feels the characters' hope, despair, and rekindled hope. Wilbur Smith is a master of action, and this sequence is the proof. From the moment the race begins to the dramatic finish, you will not be able to put the book down.
Opinion about the main character:
While his plot and his action are spot on, Smith's characters are rather two-dimensional. Nefer has no faults. He kind, and strong, and wise, and a great general despite being young and untried. During the running of the Red Road, he saves the day repeatedly, while his partner seems to be inferior to him in every way, and unable to contribute. Similarly, as the reader progresses through the book, they begin to think that there is nothing that Taita cannot do. He seems to have mastered the art of immortality, being over 200 years old, and his magic seems to be the answer to all of the problems that the character face throughout the book. If Nefer and Taita were bad, Smiths female characters are laughable. It is clear that Smith doesn't have a good understanding of women. This makes it somewhat difficult to relate to some of the things going on in the story, and much of the character motivation seems fake. To be fair, "Warlock" does an excellent job of what it intends to do. It's a rather uncomplicated story with lots of action on well-researched historical background. The good guys are unequivocally good, and the bad guys are undeniably evil.