“The Falcon at the Portal” Re-Read

Spoilery spoiler-words ahead, don’t read if you haven’t read the books.

The Falcon at the Portal by Elizabeth Peters

The Falcon at the Portal by Elizabeth Peters

The Falcon at the Portal is set during the 1911-1912 excavation season, and is really the set-up for the next book in the series. There are some fairly important events, chronologically speaking in the series, but it finishes on rather a loose end. There’s no real sense of resolution, despite the obvious villain being defeated and the danger removed.

The three most important developments of the book are David’s interest and involvement in the nationalist movement of Egypt, Ramses and Nefret finally admitting their love to each other (and the immediate tearing apart of there relationship by outside forces), and the advent of Sennia into the Emerson family.

David’s dedication to the cause of liberation for Egypt is hardly surprising given the character and the time period. He is a gentle soul, not really the sort for revolution, but he is also a man of strong moral character (as Amelia would say), intelligence, and some little pride. The patronizing, paternalistic tone of the British Colonial machine would chafe anyone, and David is no exception. He becomes involved with a movement, led by a man named Wardani, a charismatic and mysterious revolutionary. This involvement leads to some difficulties and brief doubts about David by the rest of the family.

Another bombshell is Ramses and Nefret’s love-story. For several books now, Ramses has been pining quietly for love of Nefret, who has been apparently un-aware of the depth of his feeling for her. Near the middle of the book, she finally discovers his desire and realizes she is of the same mind. They spend the night together, and determine to be married. Naturally, before they can tell anyone of this revelation, a bombshell is dropped on the family, sending Nefret running from Ramses in revulsion (believing him a rapist) and straight into the arms of another man whom she promptly marries in a fit of pique.

What is this bombshell you ask? Well, the advent of a new member of the family, Sennia. She is about 2 or 3 years old, the daughter of a teenaged Egyptian prostitute from the Red Blind District of Cairo. And she has the features (particularly the eyes) of Amelia. The girl’s pimp attempts to blackmail the family by accusing Ramses of fathering the child and abandoning her to the life of a prostitute like her mother. Amelia and the Professor toss him out, knowing Ramses would never do such a thing, and that Amelia’s scurrilous nephew Percy (who also lives in Egypt now) very much would. Naturally, the child, Sennia, is promptly added to the family, to be brought up by Amelia and Emerson (and Ramses and Nefret too).

Unfortunately, Nefret’s lack of faith in Ramses and her hasty marriage precipitates the family into their final show-down with the criminal they have been tracking for the whole book. She manages to marry the villain, though it’s only partially her fault. She was set up by the aforesaid scurrilous nephew, though only Ramses suspects Percey’s involvement. This setback  in the course of the Ramses and Nefret romance is incredibly frustrating as a reader. They were finally going to find happiness.

Rather than reading this one, I actually listened to it on audio-book, narrated by the amazing Barbara Rosenblat. I actually was first introduced to the Amelia Peabody series via audiobook, and Barbara’s voice has always been the voice of Amelia in my head. It was rather lovely to listen to it again, almost nostalgic in a way. Besides, she really is talented as a reader, giving each voice its own distinct pitch, timber, and intonation. She even manages to differentiate between the tone of the main point of view (Amelia’s) and the two subsidiary points-of-view (Manuscript H/Ramses and Letter Collection B/Nefret). This is noticeable, as The Falcon at the Portal has far more of Ramses and Nefret’s POV than any previous books, perhaps even half of it being not narrated by Amelia. As much as I adore Amelia, I do enjoy seeing her through Ramses eyes, and Nefret’s letters to her friend Lia are always entertaining (and in a few instances extremely poignant). The letter she writes between the time she and Ramses become lovers and when she discovers Ramses’ presumed guilt is gut-wrenching in the intensity of her love and happiness in that moment, especially in light of the disaster I know is approaching in a few short pages.

Another thing that happens in this book  (and really becomes a major plot device for all succeeding books)  is Amelia dreams of Abdullah. She dreams of him many times, usually whenever she is in doubt or difficulty. Always they stand on the cliffs overlooking the Valley of the Kings and Luxor just at dawn, and he always looks very young. He passes on mysterious hints and reassurances to her, most of which are proved true in succeeding pages. The dreams are sort of a interesting codicil into Abdullah and Amelia’s relationship, as well as another development of Amelia’s character. She is not exactly the superstitious sort, being particularly practical and skeptical. But she believes fervently in these dreams, and they bring her some comfort from her present difficulties, as well as allowing her a glimpse of her friend and the man who laid down his life for her (which does tend to forge a special bond).

The title of the book is taken from the final dream, in which Abdullah warns of troubled times ahead (detailed in the next two books) but says that “in the end, the clouds will blow away and the falcon (meaning Harakhte the Horus of the Dawn) will fly through the portal of the dawn.” It’s sort of an egyptianized variation of the saying “it is darkest just before the dawn.”


“The Hippopotamus Pool” Re-Read

(There be spoilers in these ‘ere waters, aye. Read at ye’r own risk.)

'The Hippopotamus Pool' by Elizabeth Peters

‘The Hippopotamus Pool’ by Elizabeth Peters

At last we come to book 8, The Hippopotamus Pool. The name is a reference to the story of Apophis and Sekenenre. The tale, which Amelia is translating this season, is not especially relevant to this book except that it it set during the time of Queen Tetisheri whose tomb the Emersons are principally concerned with this season. They are in search of her tomb, having noticed an influx of objects bearing her name on the antiquities market, and the Professor is particularly anxious to save the tomb before more damage is done. This season, the entire family is on hand to help (or hinder as the case may be) the excavation. Even Walter and Evelyn eventually return to Egypt for the first time since they were married in book 1. They form part of the Emerson Excavation Team (not it’s official name, but that’s what it should be called!) as philologist and artist respectively.

At the beginning of this book, the elder Emersons are approached by a mysterious man who claims to be a reincarnation of a priest of Tetisheri. He offers to show them to her tomb in or der to preserve it, then is promptly kidnapped and murdered under the Professor’s nose before he can do so. Almost immediately, a man named Ricetti also approaches them. Ricetti, a hugely obese man whom Nefret refers to as the Hippopotamus Man, once ran the illegal antiquities trade in Egypt. He was driven out of business by Sethos, but with Sethos’ apparent death, he is now eager to reclaim his place, and apparently intends to do so by claiming the Queen’s Tomb. The Emerson’s rush to stop him, and eventually locate the tomb itself, which is almost undisturbed. This is rather a huge deal at the time, since no other undisturbed royal burials have been discovered yet (Tutankhamon’s famous tomb won’t be discovered for another two decades). Naturally, by now the Emersons are apparently contending with multiple gangs of thieves and interested parties whose attention is riveted by their unique find. Some of these people seem bent on helping them, and others are focused on harming various members of the family. Nefret herself garners a lot of attention due to a rather startling resemblance between her features and those of the images of Tetisheri. Eventually, both Ramses and Nefret are kidnapped within the same night. Amelia rescues Ramses with the help of Walter and Daoud, while Emerson is away in search of information. Nefret rescues herself with very little difficulty.

The most notable thing, from a series standpoint, of this book is the introduction of David Todros. David is one of my favorite characters, and his advent completes the young trio of friends (Ramses, Nefret, David). He is the grandson of Abdullah, but he has been raised by his drunken father and later an abusive “Master” who taught him to make fake antiquities for sale. David is prodigiously talented as an artist, and shows off his skills several times throughout the book. He runs away from his cruel master when the man beats him after a visit by the Emersons. The Professor had offered him sanctuary, should he care to come to them, since he would not live with his maternal grandfather’s family (he had been taught to hate them by the aforesaid drunken father). During his attempt to reach them, he is attacked and Ramses saves his life. The two are best friends, and blood brothers, from that moment forward. The rest of the family is a bit more skeptical of his loyalty at first, but he gradually earns everyone’s trust over the course of the book, and the elder Emerson’s adopt him as a foster son, much like they have Nefret. David is the first character of color to become a major and recurring character (his grandfather Abdullah has grown in importance over the last 8 books, but he is still mostly a supporting character). In the up-coming books, he adds unique and important viewpoints to the narratives. He’s also one of the most genuinely kind and loving of the characters. He has flaws of course, but he’s the gentlest of the family, next to Evelyn. Like I said, he’s one of my favorites.

The first half of this book is rather jarring in the way the Emersons interact with the other characters. The Professor behaves extremely high-handedly toward a great many native Egyptian characters, albeit only ones morally questionable. However much his behavior is historically accurate to turn-of-the-century Egypt, it’s a bit disturbing to see it laid so bare in a character who otherwise seems generally ahead of his time in many of his attitudes. Later, once he has what he wants, namely the tomb, he goes back to his general policy of “live and let live” with the rest of the population of Egypt.

Near the end of this book, we learn that one of the groups of thieves arrayed against the Emersons is lead by Bertha (who you may remember from The Snake, The Crocodile, and the Dog) who is now pregnant, and the leader of an all-woman antiquities-thieving gang. She still hates Amelia passionately, and Amelia still does not understand why (although she thinks she does). Another new character, Sir Edward Washington, rescues her from Bertha’s clutches, then abruptly disappears after a rather enigmatic comment about her being beloved by someone he admires greatly.

The tomb which is so central to the plot of this book is actually apocryphal. Tetisheri’s tomb has never been identified, and the tomb Peters writes about is primarily fictional (though probably based on actual tombs). Interestingly, there is a point in the book where a statue of Taweret is discovered within Tetisheri’s tomb, though it apparently was placed there by one of the thieves. Such a statue actually was discovered in a tomb in the area known as Dra Abu’l Naga, which is where the fictional tomb of Tetisheri is supposed to be. Granted, the book was written in 1996 and as far as I can ascertain the figure was discovered in 2008, but still. Perhaps it’s just one of life’s funny little coincidences.

Next Sunday (hopefully) we’ll be on to book 9, Seeing a Large Cat. It’s a sad book in some ways, but as wonderful as ever.

“The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog” Re-read

'The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog' by Elizabeth Peters

‘The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog’ by Elizabeth Peters

Spoilery spoilers ahead. Read the book first, please!

The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog is the 7th Amelia Peabody mystery, and one of my favorite of the early ones in the series. I’m not sure why exactly, but I’ve always enjoyed this one, despite the absurd length of the title. It begins almost immediately after the events of The Last Camel Died at Noon, and recaps briefly some of the events between the two. This is also the first book which really begins to play with the idea of Amelia one day “publishing” her “journals” (which you are encouraged to believe this is a volume of them).  She actually opens by talking about her encounter with an editorial-type person who says she uses too much poetry. Then she flashes forward to her being on a mission to rescue Emerson from imprisonment and possible death with Abdullah at her side. This little teaser is right in the first few pages, and might be slightly frustrating for a first-time reader, as the actual abduction doesn’t take place until nearly halfway (about 120 pages in, depending on edition) through the book!

The first part of the book is devoted to life in England, the settling in of Nefret among her British peers, and Amelia’s rather forlorn wish for days gone by when she and Emerson were young(er) and newly wed with no distractions of a Ramses-nature. This is an entirely understandable desire to the parent of any young child. Not that she (or any of us) wishes to be rid of their child, but rather that sometimes we begin to miss old ways of life. Such nostalgia is rarely indulged, but in this case, it almost is in a rather macabre way. But more on that in a minute (see, I can do it too). First, Nefret. As is predictable, the combination of beauty, brains, and an upbringing entirely foreign to Victorian British society makes life a bit hard for her right at first. She is uncomfortable and out of step with life, and jealous peers make life a bit hard for her. But she rallies, and determines to spend some time in England, with Walter and Evelyn, being tutored in all the things she needs to know (as determined by fashionable society). This sensible course of action also results in Ramses deciding to remain in England (with HER, it hardly need be said), freeing Amelia and the Professor to go to Egypt alone. Almost like a second honeymoon.

Amelia and Emerson begin their stay in Egypt this season with the usual attendant mysterious happenings (a few abduction attempts, a rifled room, etc). They ignore all this with their usual aplomb and begin to plan for future seasons when they wish to set up a permanent expedition house and devote several years to a single site. To this end, they begin making a survey of various sites, meanwhile meeting with old friends, including of course Abdullah and his sons. They also meet with a new character, one Mr. Vincey, who was evidently disgraced within the world of Egyptology many years ago and begs Amelia for a place on their staff. He asks that they care for his cat briefly as well, a large male named Anubis who apparently strongly resembles Ramses’ cat Bastet.

At last the chair-gripping moment we’ve been waiting for since chapter one, and Emerson is kidnapped literally under Amelia’s nose. She is also almost carried away, but a group of drunken young gentlemen “happen” along in the nick of time to prevent this. Naturally, she is wild and willful as always, and goes about finding him and then saving him. She and Abdullah and Abdullah’s relations singlehandedly locate, free Emerson, and route his abductor entirely. But! Calamity! A fate almost worse than death….Emerson does not remember her! He has suffered a blow to the head and subsequent amnesia, making him think it’s about 13 years earlier, he’s a bachelor, and he’s still working at Amarna. He vehemently denies he would ever think of marrying, and Amelia is forced to pretend they are not married but to sort of woo him back to her gently so as not to “frighten” him. Naturally, she’s successful in the end, and the intervening pages are a series of direct references to Crocodile on the Sandbank and their initial romance.

There are several deft and delightful touches in this book. First, there’s the deepening of the relationship between Abdullah and Amelia. While they’re crawling about on the roof of Emerson’s temporary prison, she has a moment of “womanly weakness” and Abdullah comforts her. He calls her “daughter” and she realizes he cares deeply for her outside of his relationship with Emerson. In the succeeding pages, Amelia relies on him above all other men, save one, her old friend Cyrus Vandergelt (introduced in The Curse of the Pharaohs which I didn’t write about). Cyrus lavishes all his resources on helping her and Emerson, though as it turns out not quite as much as he claims he is.

Another amusing touch is the re-advent of the Master Criminal, Sethos. He masquerades as one of Amelia’s old friends for half the book, without her once suspecting him (indeed, I’d forgotten myself that he re-appears here, until almost the end of the book). His previous promise never to interfere with her again helps to blind her to his presence in her life. Granted, in a twist of logic almost worthy of young Ramses, he does hold to his promise in a way and rather than hindering or working against her (overtly), he helps her in protecting Emerson. In the end, Sethos gives his life for them, taking a bullet meant for Emerson. His associates hustle his body off for burial (or…perhaps not 😉 ) and that’s that.

What really draws me to this book however is the return to the initial courtship of the Emersons. It’s every bit as delightfuly wacky as the first time around. But this time, there’s a hint of tragedy about it. Because of course, this time Amelia knows they are married and loves him passionately, but the Professor is outwardly antagonistic toward her. She is forced to pretend to a mere working relationship while desperately missing having the love and support of her husband by her side. As always, Peters walks the line between hilarity and tragedy with her usual skill.

The title, The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog is a reference to an Ancient Egyptian story called The Doomed Prince. In it, a young prince is doomed to die by either the crocodile, a snake, or a dog, but he is saved by a brave and clever princess from at least one of those fates (the manuscript is incomplete). Amelia is translating it for her own amusement, and sees several similarities with her current difficulties.

Next week, The Hippopotamus Pool. More Egyptology, a new villain, and more Emerson shenanigans!

“The Last Camel Died at Noon” Re-read

'The Last Camel Died at Noon' by Elizabeth Peters

‘The Last Camel Died at Noon’ by Elizabeth Peters

The Last Camel Died at Noon is the sixth Amelia Peabody Mystery (APM) by Elizabeth Peters. I’ve always found this one memorable and compelling for some reason. It’s actually most likely a combination of reasons, starting with the introduction of Nefret Forth, a major character in the series henceforth. Nefret is as much a special character as the rest of the cast; beautiful, talented, clever, good-hearted and wealthy. If that sounds like the description of a Mary-Sue, it could well be, except Peters manages to avoid that with Nefret with her usual careful skill. Nefret is a full character, developed over many books, and with her fair share of flaws and human weaknesses. She may be over-burdened with gifts on the surface, but she also has her own distinct character arc in which she grows and changes and develops as a person.

Much of that is in future books however. In this book, she mostly appears briefly, and at the very end. But her very existence and rescue by the eponymous heroine and her family is the entire thrust of this book. The Last Camel Died at Noon is a bit different in form from the previous books in the series. The main thrust of the story is not about Amelia solving a murder mystery, but rather her family’s adventures in the desert. It starts a bit slow, building into the dramatic moment when they finally strike off into the desert on camel-back, bent on discovering a lost oasis which they believe may contain the remnants of the Meroitic royalty who ruled Ancient Egypt during the Late Period.

Naturally, the Emersons discover not just the remains of the ancient royalty, but their descendants as well. This is the final compelling piece for me. The mere thought of living, breathing descendants of that culture still practicing the old ways makes every Egyptological bone in my body quiver with longing. There are so many gaps in our knowledge, the thought that the culture might have been preserved nearly intact after all these centuries is a compelling fantasy. This section of the book also gives Peters ample scope for displaying her considerable knowledge of Ancient Egyptian culture entwined with her highly developed imagination. The picture she paints of the culture preserved in the Lost Oasis is interesting, though she does not show it as in-depth and personal as one might like. The view is very much that of the outsider, the anthropologist, with a few characters necessary to the mystery plot leaping out of the background. Coincidentally, these are also the characters who already know enough English to interact meaningfully with the Emersons.

On re-reading this, it’s easy to see hints of “white-saviorism” in the interactions of the Emersons with the natives of the Lost Oasis. However, for the most part their role in saving the tiny kingdom from a despotic tyrant is rather peripheral. The only exception is Ramses, who has a rather more direct role, albeit an almost entirely subtextual and off-screen role. They don’t even do much to save the “rekkit” (the pseudo-enslaved race who live with the Meroitic descendants) from their downtrodden state. There is a plot arc that begins the Emersons, particularly Amelia and the Professor, along this path of “saving” them from their evil masters. But it fizzles out, and it’s left with the implication that the victorious Meroitic Prince Tarek will save his own people at some point in the future. I’m not sure if this signifies Peters changing her mind on the plot mid-way through the book or if she always planned it that way, but it works well enough here.

As I mentioned earlier, the introduction of Nefret into the Emerson family is the major plot-thrust of this book, though it’s not apparent until the very end of the book. In fact, they don’t even meet her or know of her existence until the last quarter of the book. But the best part of it all is really Ramses’ reaction to Nefret, and Amelia’s blind perplexity. The boy is struck dumb at her first appearance, and continues unable to speak her name or speak intelligently in her presence. For her part, Nefret barely notices the boy, though she’s rather understandably distracted. Amelia doesn’t see this as the first signs of Ramses profound infatuation and attachment to her, still viewing him as a little boy incapable of developing such strong feelings. She is grateful for the silence, however.

The Last Camel marks a bit of a turning point. Here we’ve collected most of the important characters (there’s at least one more still to come, but that’s several books away) and from here on out, Peters sticks a bit more closely to her formula as well, without as many deviations in form such as this book was.

Next week, we get to see how Nefret starts settling in with The Snake, The Crocodile, and the Dog.

“The Mummy Case” Re-Read

As always, spoilers ahead. If you haven’t read this one yet, read at your own peril!

The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters

The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters

Another Amelia Peabody Mystery! The Mummy Case is the third novel by Elizabeth Peters starring that redoubtable Victorian Lady and her indomitable family. (I’m skipping writing about the second one because it’s not one of my favorites, and because I can, but I did read it.) In this episode of the Emerson Family Annals, Amelia and Emerson return to Egypt to begin excavating pyramids (Pyramids!) which are Amelia’s passion. However, for the first time they also bring their son, Walter Peabody Emerson who is about 6 or 7 at this time, to Egypt. Young Walter, more familiarly known as Ramses (for his “imperious countenenance and manner, so like that of the ancient Pharoah’s”) is something of a child-prodigy in many ways, and just as passionately interested in Egyptology as his parents.

So, the family returns to Egypt, where they meet there first check. Emerson is unable to procure the Pyramids of Dahshoor for his darling Peabody, and they are stuck with the nearby “pyramids” of Mazghunah. These are really little more than rubble, and the Emersons’ attention wanders. Ramses engages in a mysterious investigation of his own, Amelia roots about in various matters searching for the killer of an antiquities-dealer in Cairo, and Emerson continuously bothers the Director of Antiquities, who is excavating at Dahshoor. Woven in among these activities is the drama in the nearby village caused by a group of missionaries bent on converting the local Copts (Egyptian Christians) to a form of Prostenant Christianity. This greatly angers the local priest, for obvious reasons. But the leader is more than just your average missionary, he’s also a raging bag of douche-nozzles. Even his sister and student understand he’s a bit unhinged, but are unwilling to admit such to themselves. They manage to cause all sorts of troubles for the Emersons, even resorting to a certain criminal activity in order to satisfy the man’s insane world-view.

The important part of this book (from a series perspective) is less about the primary mystery but rather the introduction of two characters. The first is Ramses. He was technically introduced in the last book, but his role was very peripheral due to his extreme young age and his being left at home. This is the first time we really get a glimpse of his abilities and personality. There are several points of interest. First, his extreme intelligence, and beyond that his diabolically imaginitive way of approaching any difficulty. He manages to discover not only the hitherto undiscovered entrance to the famous Black Pyramid (at Dahshoor), but a cache of valuable jewels belonging to a princess. He also solves the mystery (though his contributions are not heeded by his parents) and saves his parents when they are thrown into the flooded burial chamber of the Pyramid by their foe. His intense focus on certain subjects to the exclusion of others and his tendency toward extreme arrogance and verbosity just manage to save him from the dreaded too-perfect Mary Sue. But his relationship with his mother is particularly interesting. She is one of the few who seems to see him as he actually is, and yet even she manages to underestimate him on a regular basis. For his part, she is the one person who he seems to truly be cautious, perhaps even a little afraid of, and yet he definitely feels a strong affection for her in his own saturnine way.

Amelia also encounters her series nemesis for the first time in this book. For it seems that the angry Coptic priest from the village was actually the cleverly-disguised Master Criminal! He is at the center of (most of) their troubles as he and his confederates attempt to rob the jewelry cash Master Ramses found in the Black Pyramid. After Ramses frees his parents from the depths of the pyramid into which the MC had thrown them, they unmask and confront the villain. Unfortunately, he escapes their attempt to bring him to justice and Amelia, at least, is determined to catch him in the future. *Insert ominous and portentious music here*

Next week, the saga continues with The Lion in the Valley, and the return of the Master Criminal!

A Legacy of Inspiration

Today, my issue of the Winter KMT magazine (an international, popular Egyptology periodical) arrived. Glancing casually at the cover on my way to the kitchen, I was startled and horrified to see a cover-story “Remembering Dr Barbara Mertz”.

KMT Volume 24 Number 4

KMT Volume 24 Number 4

This is the sort of thing written about someone who is dead, but I hadn’t heard anything about her even being ill. Flipping through to the story, I discovered she passed away quietly on August 8th of this year. (Later, I found more information on her official website.)

I should explain. Barbara Mertz is perhaps more commonly known as Elizabeth Peters, the author of the Amelia Peabody Mystery* series (she also wrote under the name Barbara Michaels). When I was about 11 or 12 my mother discovered them at the library, and rather astutetly predicted I would enjoy them. I did. Hugely. I read them all, then read them again. I became so fascinated that I started to read about Ancient Egypt. Later, when I’d gotten to college and was casting about for a new direction, I remembered my fascination with Egypt and decided to change my major to Classics (the only department with any Egyptology classes at all).  And the rest is history. I studied for two degreees, discovered writing and began to write about Ancient Egypt, began to dream of working in the field of Egyptology. Through it all, I read Mertz’s books, seeking out her nonfiction and fiction alike. I read about her life, and took comfort from her unique path through the field of Egyptology. In graduate school, I took my courage in both hands and wrote her a fan letter. This is not the sort of thing I’m prone to doing, but I’m so very grateful I did when I had the  chance. I’m most especially grateful that she wrote back to me, in her own hand, a short postcard thanking me for my kind words, congratulating me on my success so far and wishing me luck in my continued endeavors. MertzPostcard It’s one of my most treasured possessions, and is hanging even now on my note-board above my desk.

So how do you write about someone who touched your life in such a profound way, yet you never met, nor even spoke to them? How do you deal with grief for a stranger that is deeper than the grief we feel for humans in general? For me, I’ll be re-reading all of my favorite books (and more than likely blogging about them) from her body of work. After all, it was her stories which inspired me so profoundly, so it only makes sense to immerse myself in them again to mark her passing. And one of the things she inspired me to do was write, so I’ll write about her work.


*I’ve written about these books, and the eponymous character, before.

Seven Months Later…

I’ve mentioned before (in this post) about a specific book I need for research purposes. I also mentioned how much trouble I was having getting my hands on this particular piece of research. Yesterday I encountered another, major setback in my quest, which engendered a certain amount of expletive-laced ranting on Twitter.

The cause of my creative language was an email from the company which I had ordered the book from. In it, they stated that the book was out of print from the publisher (The Dutch Institute for the Near East) and they had no intentions of ever re-printing it. The Company informed me they were dropping my back-order. After 7 months of bad-or-no information from them. The following is a visual representation of my reaction:


So, let’s look at the chain of events here. First, I order this book July 8th (last year). I received a confirmation immediately that they’d received my order, and then the next day another confirmation telling me I would receive another email when my order shipped.

Then silence. For months.

Finally, my life quieted down a bit and in October I began to wonder about the lack of communication. So I called the number, spoke to a customer service representative, she knew nothing. But she tracked it down, said the publisher had not sent it yet, but that sometimes they waited to send items until they had several to send at once, because overseas and shipping and such. She promised to try to move the process along a bit.

Fair enough. But the trust was gone. So I called every week until finally in November I was told the book had been put on a ship. Shipping was estimated to take a few weeks, but once they had it they could then mail it to me.

Alright. November was a busy month, and Nanowrimo was on. I let it go again. December passed, with still no word. Finally we come to January. Life settled out.

Mid-January, I called again. The person I spoke to had no idea why it hadn’t arrived in their warehouses. After some digging, she discovered that the book had accidentally been left off the last shipment from the publisher, so she resubmitted the order and asked that it be expedited.

Exasperated, I waited a couple of weeks, and called again. This time I was passed along to a different representative (until now, I’d been talking to the same girl every time, I believe). He informed me that the book was out of print, but they could put it on back-order and see if the publisher had any plans to re-issue it. He promised to email me when he knew for sure.

Then of course, yesterday’s email arrived, with the news of the cancelled back-order.

So. After 7 months, they finally quit playing with me. 7 months to figure out that they could not provide a product they had advertised on their website as available (there was no note on the listing that it would be back-ordered, and no note in the original confirmation emails). That’s 7 months where I could have been searching for a used copy but wasn’t because I was assured I had already bought it.


Worst of all, after all this, I still need the book. The only places I’ve found it online have been this place, and Amazon. It’s listed, used, for $300 and $500 dollars. I can neither afford that, nor do I think a used copy is worth that, considering the new copy was only going to cost me $70.

So, I’m a little at a loss, and I turn to you, dear readers for help. Any suggestions for how to find it or links to places to buy it would be greatly appreciated.

The book is Who’s Who at Deir El-Medina:  A Prosopographic Study of the Royal Workmen’s Community by Benedict G. Davies.

“Mountains of the Pharaohs”

So, my most recent non-fiction read has been Mountains of the Pharaohs: The Untold Story of the Pyramid Builders, by Zahi Hawass. It took me a VERY long time to finish, though that’s no reflection on the quality of the book or the writing, but rather my ability to concentrate on scholarly concerns lately. But that’s another post.

I had never read anything by Zahi Hawass before, though naturally I’ve heard plenty about him. For the non-egyptologists, Dr. Hawass is the leader of the Egyptian Antiquities service (also known as Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities), a formidable scholar and excavator in his own right, and a bit of an iconoclast in the field. Anyway, I quite enjoyed the style of Mountains of the Pharaohs. It is a mix of scholarly and popular, with just a dash of historical fiction thrown in for spice. At the beginning of each chapter, Dr. Hawass paints a fictional “might-have-been” scenario relating to the topic of the chapter. So, Chapter 1 is about the reign of King Sneferu and the dawn of the 4th Dynasty. At the beginning is a little scenario written from Sneferu’s hypothetical point of view.

Mountains of the Pharaohs is about the development and building of the Ancient Egyptian pyramids, focusing most closely on the pyramids of Giza of course. It discusses 4th and 5th Dynasty history and archaeology. I’m not especially well-read in Old Kingdom history beyond the basics as my focus is on New Kingdom Egypt. So I was surprised and delighted at the depth and extent of new (relatively, as the book was published in 2006) archaeological evidence dating from this period. There is even a surprising amount of evidence from recently excavated workmen’s villages and associated cemeteries dating from the period. This is particularly exciting because it gives greater insight not only into the building of the pyramids themselves, but also into the lives of the men who built them, and their families.

Dr. Hawass also spends some time dispelling certain popular myths, such as the pyramids were built primarily by slave-labor, or by aliens, and replaces those myths with the facts we know for sure, and those we can extrapolate given the current evidence (i.e. educated guesses). I quite enjoyed these sections, as well as giving me another authority to quote in debunking those persistent myths which are the exasperation of egyptologists of all stripes.

I definitely highly recommend this book for anyone even casually interested in the history of the Old Kingdom and the pyramids specifically. The style is accessible to scholars and non-scholars alike.

Mummies and Other Creepy Dead Things

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to realize that dead things really freak me out. Even just pictures of something dead give me what is colloquially known as ‘the heeby-jeebies.’ I’m not sure why this is. I’m not exactly afraid of them. I know dead things can’t hurt me (until the Zombie apocalypse comes of course, but right now I think we’re still safe). It’s also completely independent of species. Dead birds, rodents, and even insects or small frogs, weird me out quite as badly as dead humans. A cardinal dropped down dead on our porch a few months ago (probably from traumatic brain injury since the stupid thing had been flying into the windows and car-mirrors for years).  Afterwards, I spent a solid 10 minutes bargaining with my sister-in-law to get her to pick it up and carry it to the grave, because the thought of getting my hand that close to it gave me the shivers, despite having a shovel to use.

Nor do the humans need to be horribly mutilated to weird me out. Nor even  clearly visible. I’ve never been to a funeral with an actual body present, and I’m honestly not sure I could attend one, no matter how attached I was to the deceased. Seriously guys, cremation will help save your loved ones when the zombies rise up. But that is nothing compared to my reaction to the Mummy Room in the British Museum. Guys…there are dead people in the British Museum!! Seriously, there are several of them, laying peacefully wrapped in swathes of linen, staring out of painted mummy-masks at the passers-by who peer through glass cases down into the faces of millenia-old corpses. I’m sure very few people think about it but mummies aren’t just artifacts like the jewelry and funerary pots displayed around the walls. They’re also corpses, the mortal remains of people who lived thousands of years ago. HOW IS THIS NOT CREEPY?!?

Anyway, I’m sure you can see how this particular attitude might be a bit of a drawback to an egyptologist. Sure I can spend my life and career studying other aspects of Ancient Egypt, focusing on other artifacts, but there will always be mummies mixed in with my other data. Mummies of children, cats, dogs, birds, crocodiles…really anything that can possibly be mummified. They all creep me out, but none quite so badly as those quiet mummies surrounded by crowds of tourists in the British Museum.

Oddly enough, I am completely unfazed by cemeteries. Perhaps because in a cemetery, the dead bodies are all decorously hidden under a concealing layer of soil.


More Research

Most skillful fiction requires a certain amount of research, even if it’s just general outlines of a topic, no more than you can get from an hour or so on Wikipedia. Historical fiction of all types (Historical Romance, Historical Fantasy, Etc) requires exhaustive amounts in order to fool the reader into believing they are actually in the past. Of course, the trickiest part is to then write your story in such a way that all of that research is hidden from the reader.

So, because I’ve returned to my Egyptian Historical Novel, I’ve been researching again. I finally realized that the research would never be done, and I just had to start writing. As I came up to a new chapter, if I needed to stop writing and do some further research first, that would be fine, but I had to start, or I’d never get past the researching phase.

Because Egyptology, especially the village of Deir el Medina where my novel is set, was my major area of study for my degrees, I have a bit of an advantage. For one thing, I already have a fair number of useful source-books and literature. I also have a pretty good idea of which books/publications I still need to read, or in some cases re-read. One of these I have since ordered for my personal library because it would be useful for other projects as well. So I tracked down a copy of this book (a rather difficult prospect) and placed an order. Over a month ago. It still hasn’t shipped, and no word from the company.

Some books only have a few facts I need, minor points I just need to confirm for accuracy. My missing book is different. It contains basically my entire cast of supporting characters (the main characters as well, but they at least are in other publications too), their names, jobs, biographical information, relationships. One can see how it may be a bit difficult to proceed without it.

I need my book, damnit.



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