Book Review of Wilbur Smith’s “The Seventh Scroll”

7th scroll

Cover art for the mass paperback edition of the novel “The Seventh Scroll”

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Wilbur Smith’s 1995 novel The Seventh Scroll isn’t the sort of book I’d read today, although action, adventure, and archeological mysteries are something I’d have considered back in the day.

But on Facebook, I read that it’s author died last November. Smith was highly regarded as a writer on the FB writers page where I saw the announcement. I figured I should read something of his for the sake of his passing.

He was one of those highly regarded and well-reviewed authors you hear about. Just to give you a few examples:

“The plot twists and turns with constant surprises. This old-fashioned adventure novel keeps the reader enthralled all the way to its very exciting conclusion.”
– The Washington Post Book World

“Life-threatening dangers loom around every turn, leaving the reader breathless….An incredibly exciting and satisfying read.”
– Chattanooga News-Free Press

“An entertaining yarn.”
– Fort Worth Star-Telegram

I looked through his books and decided on “The Seventh Scroll” because it is the very type of story I’d have consumed when “Scroll” was first published. It’s actually part of a series, some of which is set in ancient Egypt. I prefer a more modern adventure.

I’d characterize this tome into three parts:

  1. Really boring drag
  2. Moments of excitement
  3. An authentically surprising twist ending

I know that in any good mystery, you have to set up your clues. There’s also character development to consider, which takes time. But good grief, did there have to be so much of it? There were whole sections I would have minimized or just deleted. Smith seemed to take delight mentioning himself in this story. Especially his prior novel in the series River God which is the ancient telling of the missing Pharaoh’s tomb that the characters in the book are trying to find in Ethiopia.

There were plenty of exciting parts, but Smith makes you work to get there. Also, even some of the murders and attempts on the life of female protagonist Royan Al Simma didn’t seem to have the right “punch.” I don’t know why. I know the tale is supposed to have a large, sweeping scope, but at times it all was spread way too thin, and characters I wanted to hear more about met their end too quickly.

I should mention that Smith’s “romance” scenes were pornographic. Yes, he had to make the old German bad guy Gotthold Von Schiller, who is a very stereotypical evil millionaire (he’d be an even more evil billionaire if the book had been written today), seem like a degenerate pervert (I can only imagine how much worse that would be in today’s market), but the ancient geezer couldn’t “get it up” unless he had his 40-year-old mistress and public relations secretary dress in authentic Egyptian garb and recite a script that belongs in the pages of Hustler magazine (if it exists anymore). Yuck.

There was even one time when our hero (the British aristocrat-adventurer who is terrible at managing his financial affairs), Sir Nicholas Quenton-Harper is finally overwhelmed with Royan’s beauty and hastily tries seducing the young widow. She succumbs for a moment but as his hand is plunging into her…well, you get the idea. Anyway, the act isn’t fulfilled but they fall in love anyway. Oddly enough, when they finally marry, all of that sexual tension goes away, or at least Smith doesn’t take advantage of the situation.

I mentioned a twist ending, but it’s really messy. Both Royan and “Nicky” betray each other so badly, I thought no reconciliation was possible. Also Quenton-Harper (not just “Harper”) totally burns the Egyptian government, taking their money and then ripping off the goods, so to speak. He even accepts an Egyptian award. If he knew what was good for him, he’d never show his face in Egypt again and certainly would allow his former lady love to go on with her life as he should have gone on with his.

Instead, he calls her. She rips him a new one and then (gasp) agrees to marry him. They are last seen with another mismatched couple strolling along the Nile in Egypt.

Why would they even want to marry each other and how come Quenton-Harper wasn’t thrown in the nearest prison the instant he crossed the border into Egypt? No explanation and no logic.

I love a happy ending just as well as the next person, but this one didn’t make any sense. Maybe Smith was on to something when he made fun of his own writing and the errors he committed in the pages of “The Seventh Scroll.” Yes, I made myself finish it, and it was “fair to middling,” but not a five-star mega-epic as the popular critics would have you believe. I was generous and offered up four stars.

4 thoughts on “Book Review of Wilbur Smith’s “The Seventh Scroll”

  1. “Fair to midland” (sic), you say? This evaluative expression is more properly rendered as “fair to middling”, which is to say somewhere in the upper half of the full range between excellent and terribly bad, between acceptably good and mediocre.

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