My Rating: Had to Stop Reading

This historical novel takes place during the rise of the city of Uruk, which was one of the first real cities and part of the Sumerian civilization. Right from the start I understood this was not a classic of the genre. However, the topic interested me as I’d never read much historical fiction set in the ancient world and nothing about Sumeria.

The book opens with an attack on Uruk by a nomadic tribe. The battle and the initial exploration of the military situation were pretty interesting. Not knowing any details of the earliest city states I figured that at least I’d learn something and I wondered if the city would successfully fend off the return of the nomadic raiders. Of course they would, or you’d have no “Dawn of Empire,”, right? Oh well, there’s always the setting, filled with painstaking research, and characterization to fall back on, then.

The seemingly anachronistic bits pile up pretty quickly and I questioned whether anything I was reading was accurate. If not, then much of what I hoped to get out of the book was actually not present. For instance, the way they use coins, and the way they have regular access to large amounts of alcohol at taverns really threw me off. Also the widespread ownership of bronze swords and horses doesn’t seem true. Perhaps these details were accurate to the time period 3800 B.C. but the way they were handled it wasn’t apparent if the author knew or not. If these things existed at that time, explaining more about them would make for some interesting reading.

And let’s not even talk about the lead character… oh all right, let’s. He doesn’t run into any real obstacles. He gets handed the job after the last commander of the militia gets drunk and is dismissed. Then one of the leading merchants presents him with a hot young slave girl who knows how to do anything our hero doesn’t, so he pretty much has the whole story sewn up at that point. He easily slaughters his few remaining political enemies and is loved throughout the city – the dead were all bad people, after all. How exciting.

Thinking it over for one minute, I can come up with a number of ways to make the plot more interesting:

  • Could he have some substantial conflict with the merchants, so that they do not reward him as promised, and he becomes resentful?
  • what if the slave girl were really difficult or ran away, and he had to persuade her to help him?
  • Or what if he really wanted another slave, not the one he got?
  • Or what if we just skipped the slave-girl part ?
  • He gets an assistant who turns out to be a spy for the merchant families who don’t want his plan for defending the city to succeed because that would make him too powerful?
  • Or what if he came from the tribe that’s now threatening the city and his loyalties are in doubt both by himself and the leaders of the city?
  • What if he’s actually a bad warrior which is why he had to leave his tribe and go to the city? (not too likely but could be funny.)

You get the idea.

I’m not sure about the practice of slavery as depicted here; maybe it’s accurate to what we know of Sumeria, but the author should convince us. It doesn’t ring true to me. The general practice of enslaving people from conquered villages was commonlater on in the ancient world but the rise of Uruk is so far back I wouldn’t expect the practices to be identical, as shown in this book. See Thucydides (about 400 B.C.) During the Peloponesian war cities were razed and women and children from those cities regularly enslaved. That was more than three thousand years after this story takes place, however.

After about one third of the way through I quit.