2014; 378 pages. Book 2 (out of 4) of the “Memphis Cycle” series, aka the “XIX Dynsaty” series. New Author? : No. Genre : Historical Fiction. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
Is there any sorrow so profound as that of a parent when a son or daughter unexpectedly dies? It can happen at any moment, no matter what the age of the child; no matter what the social status of the parent: rich or poor, peasant or powerful, young or old. Even the ruler of an empire is not immune.
In this case, Nakhtamun, heir to the throne and the eldest son of the Pharaoh Seti I, is ambushed and slain during an excursion into Canaan, to the north of Egypt. Seti is far away to the south, in Nubia, when it occurs. To boot, an inept messenger sent to inform Seti of his son’s passing, neglects to tell him, so it is weeks before he returns to the palace and learns of the tragedy. It means he didn’t even make it to the entombment of Nakhtamun, and thus never had a chance to say his goodbyes.
The result is a devastating grief for the Pharaoh. But hey, there’s no time for mourning; he’s the head of a powerful kingdom, and has to soldier on with affairs of state.
Or does he?
What’s To Like...
Seti I is a historical figure who ruled Egypt from approximately 1290-1279 BC. He had some notable military victories (see the Wikipedia article on him here), but not much is known about him beyond that. So this is fertile ground for storytelling. I assumed, based on the other Diana Wilder book I’ve read (reviewed here), that Mourningtide was going to be a Murder-Mystery, but it’s actually a pleasant piece of Historical Fiction. Not to worry; I like both genres.
There are only 4 discrete settings: Canaan, Memphis, Thebes, and the area around the town of the tomb-makers, Deir el Medina, but once again I liked the “feel” that the author creates for daily life, both courtly and common, in ancient Egypt. I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of the interactions between underlings and royalty. The Pharaoh is, after all, considered to be a god.
The chapters are short, so you always have a good place to stop. The Cast of Characters is now placed in the front of the book, a small but appreciated improvement over Pharaoh’s Son. Bookmark that page; you will be using it a lot to keep track of the characters you meet.
There’s some action at the beginning and some more close to the end, but not a lot in between. However, this is Historical Fiction, not Action-Adventure, and the writing was good enough to keep my interest. There aren’t very many plot twists either; it’s pretty obvious how the Seti/Djedi training thread was going to turn out from the get-go. There is some Romance for the female readers, but this is not a romance novel, so that’s okay.
The ending is similarly untwisty, but at one point it did put a lump in my throat. The epilogue was both solemn and satisfying.
The man was down on the ground, curled into a tight ball, his arms shielding his head. Seti could see blood.
“Stand back, all of you, or fight me!” Djedi snapped. “Twenty against one! And he armed only with a staff! Were you sired by dotards, that you should fight like this? Were you trained to arms by old women? Or half-wits?”
“You trained us!” The words had come from the edge of the crowd. (loc. 5794)
Seti eyed the amusement in Ptahemhat’s expression and swore again. “So I am to be saddled with you!”
“It would seem so,” Ptahemhat said. “His Holiness thought it shouldn’t be too difficult for you. He says, in fact, that I have grown up to be a fine and sensible man after being such a pain in the ass as a youngster.”
“Did he actually say that?” Seti demanded.
“Well, words to that effect.” (loc. 5873)
Mourningtide sells for $3.98 at Amazon, which is the same price for each of the other three books in the series. Diana Wilder has two other e-books available, and they, too, go for $3.98.
“I’ve never known an ass to do anything but bray.” (loc. 969)
Some of the reviews at Amazon and Goodreads were critical of how Diana Wilder portrayed the female characters in Mourningtide. They felt they weren’t “strong” enough.
I think this is a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. The role of women in ancient times was quite different than that of the 20th-21st century, and trying to instill modern-day ethics into a piece of Historical Fiction, while laudable, diminishes its believability.
Moreover, I thought the women in Mourningtide were strong, at least in the context of the time. Seti gets ogled by a group of them, and they’re not particularly worried whether he’ll overhear their remarks about his bod. And when he does strike up a conversation with them, they respond as equals, not subordinates. So personally, I thought it was done well.
8 Stars. Add 1 star if reading about dealing with the loss of a son or daughter resonates with you, or if you like being immersed in an ancient setting. Subtract 1 Star if you love plot twists and/or thrills-&-spills in your readings.