Fiction

Life Lessons from History

Rise Of The Golden Cobra
Henry T. Aubin

Annick Press
$12.95
paper
256pp
1-55451-059-7

Imagine a time and place in which leaders based important military decisions on their dreams, considering these to be a form of divine guidance. This is the kind of world we’re drawn into by Henry Aubin’s new book for young readers. Set in the eighth century BCE, the novel is based on the true story of the African king of Kush, Piankhy, whose military campaigns and honourable reign led to the unification of ancient Egypt.

Aubin’s first book, The Rescue of Jerusalem (Doubleday Canada) is about the Kushites. A non-fiction work for adults, it undoubtedly helped pave the way for Rise of the Golden Cobra. Here, Aubin convincingly recreates the political climate of the day, transporting the readers back to a time when great leaders like the highly principled Piankhy were considered earthly incarnations of the gods.

Embodying the god Amon, Piankhy encourages his subjects – even in a state of war – to behave with maat (that is, with righteousness and honour). In so doing, he serves as a role model for the novel’s hero, 14-year-old Nebanon (Nebi), who domes of age during a war that invariably challenges his moral values. At the centre of Nebi’s revenge fantasies is Count Nimlot, a villainous traitor who executes a ruthless attack which leaves Nebi as the sole bearer of a secret that must be delivered to the king.

At Piankhy’s court Nebi befriends Sheb, the king’s hot-headed nephew, whose impulsive behaviour and desire to inherit the throne further test Nebi’s values. Sheb tempts Nebi to give in to his lower impulses and his thirst for vengeance, but through a series of adventures fraught with moral dilemmas the boys mature quickly, discovering the transforming power of forgiveness along the way. “I too have reason to hate certain people,” Piankhy tells Nebi. “But I’ve found that when I hate someone, he controls me – he dominates my thoughts. To find real freedom, you can’t hate.”

The novel introduces readers to some symbolism, detailing the nature of the cobra and suggesting parallels with the king’s strong yet compassionate rule. Like the creature that adorns his crown, Piankhy is more of a defender than an attacker, using ruses to scare off aggressors. The king is no pushover, though. Push too far, and Piankhy, like the cobra, will use whatever measures necessary to protect.

Aubin’s original motive for chronicling this episode in Black history was his desire to find stories of African heroes for his adopted son. The result is a page-turner that boys in particular will surely love. Occasionally the action skips forward too quickly, as important events such as Nebi’s first night in the desert are summarized in a couple of sentences. But overall, Rise of the Golden Cobra is a worthwhile read, packed with adventure, action, and timeless truths. Through Piankhy, who treats both his subjects and enemies with respect, Aubin invites readers to ponder the value of thinking for the long-term. “Generosity is the best thing not only for them but for us. If we give them cause to hate us, they will rebel someday. Peace requires maat,” instructs the king. The implicit message is to imagine the collective prosperity that would ensue if more businesses adopted this concept toward their employees, clients and even their competition.

Always seeking the highest good, Piankhy reconciles power with compassion, challenging the truism that absolute power corrupts absolutely, providing a welcome alternative to the cynical dualism exemplified by many modern political leaders. And, like Nebi, young readers are apt to find inspiration in the king, a character who enriches the imagination with fuller, more satisfying three-dimensional possibilities. This inspiration is the first step in creating a better future. mRb

Kimberly Bourgeois is a Montreal writer and singer-songwriter whose latest EP, Heart Wave, was launched under her music project: kimberlyandthedreamtime.com.

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