I started reading Jane Lindskold‘s novels when we lived in New Mexico, and I was all enamored with the fact that I lived palpably close to a bestselling author–who was as enamored of wolves as I was. I thoroughly enjoyed her Wolf series, and have both reread it and loaned it out a few times. (In fact, I’m still waiting for the first book to come back from the last loan… <hint, hint, you know who you are!>)
I found this book buried on a shelf at the local second-hand shop while I was looking to see whether there were any other cheap Lindskold books available, and was intrigued by the blurb:
Intrepid young Jenny Benet, a recently orphaned American girl who was raised on the Wild West frontier and educated at a Boston finishing school, has come to Egypt in company with her uncle Neville Hawthorne, a British archaeologist. They’re part of a team hunting for the legendary Buried Pyramid, the tomb of the pharaoh Neferankhotep–who may also have been Moses the Lawgiver.
But another party, led by the opulent and treacherous Lady Audrey Cheshire, is shadowing theirs. Someone who signs himself “The Sphinx” has been sending them threatening letters–written in hieroglyphs. Evidently, an ancient and shadowy organization is determined to keep the tomb from being discovered.
And mortal antagonists may not be all that stands in their way…
Since ancient Egypt is one of my perennially favorite topics, I was already inclined to enjoy this story. The inclusion of a headstrong young woman as the lead character made it all the more enticing. The setting, just prior to the turn to the 20th century, only hints at the American elements, and barely touches on London, before launching into the details of travel to Egypt when it was a British protectorate.
The historical details seem accurate to me (as someone whose hobby it is to read all kinds of different historical fiction to flesh out what I learned of history in school), and lead to such ironic, anachronistic conversations as:
“A lady’s dress is like a cage, no?” he said. “They wall in the ribs with something tight. These days they give you a fat tail of heavy cloth that drags behind. Not so long ago, I recall that the ladies surrounded themselves with great hoops of whalebone and wire–very real cages, indeed, that made their skirts stand out like sails on a ship. I think you don’t like these cages at all, no?”
“Not one bit!” Jenny replied firmly. “They’re stuffy and they’re uncomfortable. I can’t see how making a woman into some sort of funny shape makes her prettier, either. A man gets to be shaped like a man. Why can’t a woman be shaped like a woman?”
Papa Antonio chuckled comfortably.
“Perhaps because not all women have such a pretty shape as you do,” he said gallantly, “and they are happy to hide under petticoats and layers of skirts.”
Jenny snorted, but she couldn’t help but share his laughter, imagining some stout matron wearing trousers that exposed the breadth of her backside for all to see.
In fact, given how long the rather mundane travelogue continues, it seems at first much more historical fiction with a touch of mystery thrown in, than anything related to the fantastic. And that’s when Lindskold turns the dial to 11. Something of the magic Lindskold ascribes to Egypt reminds me of what the Stargate series made of Egypt’s antiquities, and it made me truly appreciate her ability to commingle the supernal with the commonplace.
So. For anyone who’s interested in a different view of ancient Egypt, told with the spice of a to-the-story present-day mystery, this is a meaty book that will involve you in a fascinating quest–not only for the artifact represented on the surface of the story, but also for the path to wisdom that underlies it. Because of that, it would also be good reading for anyone who likes a coming of age tale that helps focus the issues women face in seeking their independence in such a way that others might also benefit.