With this engrossing Egyptian trilogy (following NEFERTITI), Nick Drake’s writing style easily can be called “faction,” enthralling fiction woven around astounding history. Protagonist Rai Rahotep becomes a detective, a protector --- whatever King Tutankhamun, older son of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, wants him to be.
Tutankhamun became king at age nine and died about a decade later, setting the scene of this fact-based novel for his formal ascension to the throne. The boy king, who never suffered the “moral arrogance of youth,” was occupied with warring factions and trying to unite the Two Lands, Upper and Lower Egypt. A hauntingly defaced stone carving has complex implications for the teen king, “for this has the intention of creating fear where it does the most damage. In the mind of the King, and those close to him.” With the ultimate insult, “the King’s royal names had been completely erased.” Voodoo-like figurines appear in the royal palace contemporaneously with seemingly unrelated gruesome murders of young people in the seedy side of Thebes.
Readers are reminded that “Names are powers. They bring forth into reality that which they declare.” Tutankhamun is a combination of names, meaning the “Living Image of Amun,” Amun being a god who created the universe, exquisitely explained in this richly written historical thriller. Aten is the sun disk, the god worshiped by Tutankhamun’s father, Akhenaten, and his half-sister and wife, Queen Ankhesenamun, daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Convoluted marriages and stillborn offspring suggest incestual genetic disorders 33 centuries ago.
For Bookreporter.com readers, Nick Drake expounds on the “wonderfully complex” combination and meanings of Egyptian names. “Living (Ankh --- literally, “life”) Image (Tut) of Amun. When Tutankhamun was born he was named TutankATEN. After the death of Akhenaten, Tut changed his name to TutankhAMUN to distance himself from his father’s reign. Amun (or Amun-Ra) was the most important god in the ancient Egyptian pantheon.” There is a wealth of knowledge here without being stodgy or overwritten, with a style that only Drake possesses.
For forensics experts, “[m]ost murder victims reveal the story of their end.” A teen beauty, except “where her face and hair should have been there was now a mask of gold foil. For someone had, with an exquisite and appalling skill, scalped her...and removed her face and her eyes.” The third eye-gouging criminal investigation finds a young man at the brink of death, told with a maggot-gagging description of a “facelift” that will cause surgeons to cringe.
After blood-filled sacs are thrown at the royal procession, Tutankhamun observes: “Nowhere is safe. It is all shadows...the palace of shadows.” As the subtitle indicates, “Shadows have powers...shadows have names.” Those names are deciphered by “Rahotep, Seeker of Mysteries,” who finds plenty, with the help of Drake’s magnificently poetic prose. Rahotep accompanies Tutankhamun on a lion-hunting expedition, where surprising events alter history. Rahotep is summoned by the Queen to define strange events in Malkata Palace. Careful not to offend the teenaged royal rulers, Rahotep must choose his words carefully: “But words are not what they seem...they are slippery. Words can change their meaning in a moment.”
The King and Queen (“pharaoh” was not commonly used in Tutankhamun’s 18th Dynasty) fear what lurks in shadows, but fear is “the prey of shadows.” Without an heir, the Queen is told, “Your progeny is shadows.” Rahotep observes, “For a world with so much sun we live in a dark place, in a dark time.” A defining historical moment arrives with a solar eclipse, a consummate shadow enveloping Egypt that causes fear for those not familiar with astronomy. Queen Ankhesenamun uses the eclipse to her advantage, displaying the wisdom of her mother, Nefertiti.
This novel needs to be read twice --- once for the history lesson disguised as a mystery, and again for the wealth of words greater than Tutankhamun’s tomb gold. The wealth lavished on Tutankhamun to prepare him for the Otherworld has succeeded. He lives again with this intensely and utterly believable historical thriller masterfully written by Nick Drake, who will have readers eagerly anticipating the conclusion to this outstanding trilogy.
Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy (Dean@DeanMurphy.net) on January 23, 2011