Book Review: The Twelfth Transforming

The Twelfth TransformingI read this book the first time in the late 80s, and have read it many times since then as well as loaned my copy to friends. This book is a compelling presentation of of ancient Egypt and fueled my fascination with that epoch to a great degree.

From the Amazon description:

Part of a popular line of historical thrillers set in Egypt, this second volume in Gedge’s bestselling series reconstructs the court of Akhenaten, one of ancient Egypt’s most controversial and colorful rulers, whose reign lead to the near-collapse of his empire some 2,500 years ago.

As someone who, at the time, didn’t know a great deal of the specifics of that era, but had been through any number of museum exhibits sharing elements of Egyptian archeology, the story sucked me in from the very beginning with its evocative language and intricate plotting. I had seen the bust of Nefertiti on display at the Egyptian Museum of Charlottenburg only a few years earlier, so it was my first experience of reading a fictionalized account of a figure from antiquity, and ignited my yen for the historical fiction genre generally.

When I get nostalgic about Egyptian history, this is the book I go back to again and again, for passages like:

When they had backed down the expanse of tessellated floor and the doors had closed silently behind them, Amunhotep sobered. “Well, my Tiye, what is on your mind? You did not come here to make love to a fat old god with rotting teeth.”

She quickly suppressed the moment of anxiety such talk from him always brought to her. He was shrewd and cold,this man, extracting a pitiless amusement out of every human failing, even his own, and he better than any other knew the irony in his description of himself. For at Soleb, in Nubia, his priest worshipped him with incense and song night and day, and a thousand candles burned before a colossal statue of Amunhotep, the living god, a likeness that neither aged nor sickened.

Gedge doesn’t gloss over the excesses of the royal court, and no less shies away from the infidelities nor incest and other elements distasteful to modern moralists. Yet she does it without judgement in such a way that every element of the story is supported and pushed forward by the logical weight of the momentum of action and reaction.

Picking up this book is always an invitation to lose myself in ancient Egypt for a few hours, and tonight was no different. Once again I am moved by the compelling (and cut-throat) politics depicted and the at once broad sweep of history that still conveys the deeply personal relationships between the primary players. I highly recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in Egyptology or Machiavellian-style politics.

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