Quick Review: The House of the Eagle by Duncan Sprott

The House of the Eagle is the first book in the Ptolemies Quartet by Duncan Sprott

Summary ( from book cover):

The House of the Eagle begins Duncan Sprott’s Ptolemies Quartet, an epic restoration of the dark and glittering story of ancient Alexandria and the Greek Pharaohs of Egypt, whose extraordinary dynasty spans twelve generations from the death of Alexander the Great to the fall of Cleopatra.

Narrated by Thoth, the ibis-headed Egyptian god of writing and wisdom, this book details the rise of the shrewd Ptolemy I from ordinary soldier of Macedon to Satrap of Egypt, and his coronation as Pharaoh and a god in his own lifetime. We follow then the astonishing history of Ptolemy’s twelve turbulent children in unending wars, domestic murders and incestuous marriages, all set against the exotic backdrop of Egypt.

With it’s cast of powerful characters – King Ptolemy himself, the violent Ptolemy Keraunos, the famous Thunderbolt, the luxury-loving Ptolemy Mikros, and their poisonous sister, Arsinoe Beta – this is a triumph of historical salvage that brings vividly to life the most bizarre family that ever existed.

My Thoughts:

This is another re-read. I’ve been clearing my bookshelves, going through them volume-by-volume, and stumbled across this one I read, probably close to when it first came out in 2004, but its story and the author’s storytelling have stayed with me. So, when I found this one again, I knew I wanted to re-read it…

I really enjoyed this book. I liked the story, the characters…pretty much everything about it. It’s a vast book, running to 445 pages, but it doesn’t feel overly long. In fact, it is engaging, engrossing, and full of drama. My favourite line comes right at the end:

“As for any man who speaks ill of this book, Thoth will fight him.”

Simply epic. I really liked Thoth as narrator. I’ve always had a soft spot for the ibis-headed god and have a small figurine of him standing on my writing desk. However, having read a couple of reviews on Goodreads, not all readers enjoyed it.

There is something quite disappointing about this four book series though. The second book, Daughter of the Crocodile, was published in 2006, but here it seems the quartet ends. However, I will certainly read the next book (at some point), and imagine I will love it just as much as this one.

Rating:

Book Review: Cleopatra’s Heir by Gillian Bradshaw

cleopatra's heir front coverCleopatra’s Heir is a “what if” tale, an alternative history documenting what might have happened to King Ptolemy Caesar, or Caesarion, if he had escaped being murdered by the victorious Romans after the conquest of Egypt.  A conquest that saw both his mother, Queen Cleopatra, and his step-father, Mark Antony, commit suicide.

The son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, Caesarion would never have been allowed to live by the Romans, whether or not he held any political motives to recapture his lost crown.  He would have been seen as a potential figurehead, a rallying point for dissent and rebellion.  And the Romans were very good at stamping out such characters (as were many dynasties, empires and kingdoms in the ancient world and later), long before they had the chance to act.

So, Cleopatra’s Heir tells the story of Caesarion, beginning with the boy waking up on his own funeral pyre.  What follows is an interesting possibility of what might have happened to the young man in the days and weeks after.

We witness his reaction to certain historical events and see through his eyes how he might have perceived his mother as well as other notable figures.  But it is perhaps his interactions with the poor peasants that he comes across where his greatest lessons lie.

I found Cleopatra’s Heir to be a riveting read.  I especially liked the portrayal of Caesarion’s conflicting character and emotions: on the one hand he is a king and above everyone and everything, with the weight of dynasty on his shoulder, on the other he is mourning the loss of his life, family and is trying to understand what real kindness means.

The historical detail found throughout the book portrays an accurate and well-researched reconstruction of Egypt at the time of the Roman conquest.  And, I do not doubt that those who enjoy alternate history or their fiction set in the ancient world, would enjoy this also.  It’s worth it for the tour of ancient Egypt alone! 🙂

Book Review: Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

From an early age, it is Nefertiti’s ambition to marry a Pharaoh, but just being one of his many wives will not do.  She yearns to be first amongst them, and it is not an impossible dream for she is stunningly beautiful and all who see her recognise it, as does she.

At fifteen years of age, she marries Akhenaten, the Prince of Egypt.  Those around Nefertiti believe she will be a calming, reasoning influence on the Prince.  However, chief amongst her concerns is not trying to reason with her new husband but rather ensuring she replaces Kiya as his chief wife, and she will stop at nothing to see that it is so.  Beautiful and clever, Nefertiti quickly becomes a favourite of the people as well as Akhenaten, and her daring and courage only raise their opinion of her higher.

It is not only Nefertiti’s ambition that needs to be watched.  Others are out to make a name for themselves.  It is a dangerous time, both politically and religiously.  Soon, she finds herself in the midst of upheaval as Akhenaten breaks with the traditional religion of Egypt and declares that the Aten is the one and only god, upsetting the priests, the military and even the people…

Is Nefertiti clever enough to save Egypt whilst ensuring her own ambitions are met?  How far will she go to keep all that she has fought for?  And what does this mean for her sister and the rest of her family?

Although the book is entitled ‘Nefertiti’, the story is actually told through the eyes of her sister Mutnodjmet.  It is from this perspective that we glimpse one of the most strained and tumultuous periods in ancient Egypt.

Mutnodjmet, or Mutny, as she is called, is a great main character, one with whom it is easy to empathise with.  Although she is sister to the queen of Egypt, she yearns for a simple life but any attempt made by her to get it is seen as dangerous and disloyal by the royal family.

I thought that the portrayals of both Akhenaten and Nefertiti were interesting and engaging.  As someone who has possessed a keen interest in ancient Egypt for over twenty years, I believed their characterisation to be fresh and compelling.

This was such a great piece of historical fiction, one that once I was drawn into the story, I struggled to put the book down.  The characters had a very real quality to them and the places described were clear and vivid.  It was not hard to imagine the streets, houses, people and places, which is a sure sign of a great story.

I recommend this book to fans of historical fiction, especially those who enjoy reading about ancient Egypt.  Love, death, betrayal, ambition…Nefertiti quite easily makes it on to the list of this year’s favourite reads and I would certainly read another book by this author.

Short Story Review: The Thief versus King Rhampsinitus by Herodotus

In the introduction to this short story it states that this might be the world’s oldest detective story, which naturally, I found intriguing. It goes on to explain that this mystery was told to Herodotus on one of his many travels, which he subsequently chose to record…

The king was vastly wealthy, and no one in the kingdom comes remotely close to possessing the amount of wealth he does.  So, to safeguard it, he has built a special treasury next to the palace, that none can access, bar him.

However, the builder has engineered a secret point of access, known only to him.  Sometime later, when he falls ill and knowing that he will soon die, he shares his secret with his two sons, wanting to ensure that once he’s gone, they are able to maintain their current standard of living.

As soon as the father dies, the two sons set off to find out if what they have been told is true.  It is confirmed when they gain access to the sealed treasury.  The two brothers begin to make regular trips to the vault so that it becomes clear to the king on his inspections that his wealth is slowly dwindling.  However, the seals over the door haven’t been disturbed and he is at a loss as to how anyone else is gaining entry.

So, he sets about trying to capture the thieves…what unfolds is a surprising tale of cunning and boldness.

It’s amazing to think that this tale is well over two thousand years old.  It was certainly interesting to read, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction set in the ancient world.

I came across this short story in The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits, ed. Mike Ashley.

Book Review: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Keeping with the Ancient Egyptian theme of the last book review (The Locked Tomb Mystery by Elizabeth Peters), Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile captured my attention.

Unlike the books of Elizabeth Peters, one doesn’t read Death on the Nile for its historical value (although you will find evocative descriptions of the places visited as part of the itinerary of some of the characters). No, one simply reads it to be in awe of the wonderful Hercule Poirot.

First published in 1937, the story takes place on a Nile cruise.  It centres on the young, beautiful and vastly wealthy Linnet Ridgeway, who is on board as part of her honeymoon, along with another dozen or so characters at odds with her in some way, the other passengers or who are simply hiding something.

Hercule Poirot, on holiday in Egypt, finds himself  on the same boat as this rather eclectic group.  Then one night, the unthinkable happens.  Linnet Ridgeway is murdered and Poirot is asked to investigate.

Death on the Nile is one of the best pieces of detective fiction ever written; written by one of the greatest writers ever.  The reader is kept guessing the identity of the murderer up until the very end of the book due to cleverly placed twists and turns.  The character descriptions are vivid, the dialogue engaging, and Hercule Poirot is at his very best.

Even though you may have seen the film starring Peter Ustinov, or watched the TV adaptation with the marvellous David Suchet (who is in my mind the Hercule Poirot I see and hear when I read the books), one question remains.  If you’ve not read the book, why not?

Book Review: The Locked Tomb Mystery by Elizabeth Peters

Elizabeth Peters is best known (at least as far as I’m concerned) for her wonderfully captivating Amelia Peabody books, but I stumbled across this rich and vibrant short story in The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits.

The story centres on the funeral of Senebtisi, who leaves her son penniless by ordering an overly lavish funeral and grand funeral goods, which subsequently becomes the talk of the town as it were.  A year after her death, a spate of tomb robbing occurs in the vicinity of her tomb, and the dutiful son orders it opened to ensure that robbers haven’t tunnelled in and desecrated it.

Once the tomb is opened, it is revealed that it has been disturbed and many of the grave goods have in fact been stolen.  However, mystery surrounds how it could have been possible.  The tomb was sealed, and no tunnel was found.

Pharaoh orders Amenhotep Sa Hapu to investigate.  It is through his conversations with Wadjsen, the narrator, that Amenhotep explains exactly how the crime was committed.

I loved this short story and could quite happily have read much more. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Ancient Egypt for it was brought to life immediately due to the depth of historical detail woven throughout the story.