Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pharaoh's Son - Diana Wilder

    2011; 440 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre :  Historical Mystery.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    When one of the colossal statues of Pharaoh topples over during a festival at the temple of Ptah, it seems to be an unfortunate accident.  When a second statue and a pylon also collapse, one wonders if it is a sign from Ptah.  But then priests start having their throats slashed, and a more earthly cause seems more likely.

    Khay is both the high priest of Ptah and a son of the Pharaoh.  It’s up to him to figure out the “Who” and “How” of these incidents.  His brother, the Crown Prince Hori, soon arrives to help.  Which means there are two more targets for whoever is behind all this.

What’s To Like...
    The setting – the Egyptian city of Memphis during the reign of Ramesses II – is superbly done.  It “felt” real to me, being neither a dry information dump nor too vague and generic. 

    The mystery aspect of Pharaoh’s Son, is passably decent.  The “Who” of the whodunit are easy to spot, although there’s one red herring to keep you one your toes.  The investigation is more a matter of determining the “Why”.  The motives and actions of the bad guys hold together reasonably well.  But there are some loose ends – such as telepathic messages and “beings of light” that ANAICT, were never resolved.

    There is also a spiritual tinge to the story, and this is where things get clunky.  Gospel allusions get dropped into the dialogue (forgiveness, the perils of materialism, reaping what one sows, etc.), but none of it ever impacts the storyline.  More importantly, it doesn’t jive with ancient Egyptian theology, not even with Amenhotep IV’s monotheistic deity, Aten.  More on this in a bit.

    The characters, especially the two protagonists, are well-developed.  There are a poopload of them to follow.  The author provides a cast of characters section, but unfortunately, it comes after the end of the story.  This may work in a “book book”, but not on a Kindle, which are inherently formatted to open to the first page.  It might be better to put the list just ahead of page 1 in the Kindle version.

    Idefa’s eyes were shining.  “I’d gladly die for Your Royal Highness!” he exclaimed.
    The Crown Prince sat back and looked him over in a puzzled fashion.  “What is it about me,” he wondered aloud, “that constantly compels those around me to seek death?  I don’t want anyone to die for me: it depletes the ranks of my allies which are, alas, far too thin as it stands.”  (loc. 3258)

    “And then what do we do?” asked Idefa.
    “Get out of here, of course,” said Khay.  “Didn’t you hear them?  They mean to put me to the torture, and I don’t intend to be here when they come back.”
    “They can’t torture you!” Idefa objected, aghast.  “You’re Pharaoh’s son!”
    “Kings’ sons bleed like anyone else,” Khay said.  “Sometimes more easily.”  (loc. 7154)

Kindle Details...
    Pharaoh’s Son sells for $2.99 at Amazon.  Diana Wilder has two other murder-mysteries set in roughly the same time and place, also for $2.99, but they do not appear to be sequels, as the protagonists are different.

“Amun's breath and bones!" (loc. 992)
    Once upon a long time ago, there was a Finnish writer named Mika Waltari.  He wrote a number of historical fiction novels, including one called The Egyptian., set in almost the exact same time period Pharaoh’s Son.  Waltari, like Ms. Wilder, paid major attention to historical accuracy, and I ate up maybe a half dozen of his books back in my salad days since I’ve always been a history buff.  Unfortunately, Waltari was a devout Christian, and he couldn’t help but let his spiritual views seep into his stories.  Which really detracted from otherwise compelling stories.

    I don’t know what the author's religious views are; she is certainly not as heavy-handed as Waltari was.  But even so, I think this genre of literature is better served without the spiritual aspects, unless they are an intrinsic part of the mystery.  And if theology is called for in the plotline, at least make it consistent with the prevailing doctrines of the setting.

    But I pick at nits.  Pharaoh’s Son is recommended for fans of both Historical Fiction and Murder Mystery.  The pacing is good, I really didn’t think there were any slow spots, and the story wraps up nicely.  7½ Stars.

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