“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!

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“Throne of the Crescent Moon”

A few months ago I saw a retweet from someone about this new author who had won an award for his debut fantasy novel called Throne of the Crescent Moon. I was intrigued by the title and once I’d seen it, the cover. I read the cover-copy and started following the author (Saladin Ahmed) on twitter. The book promptly went on my “To Buy” list (a separate but related list to my “To Read” list, and yes of course I actually keep real lists!). It took a while for the money to become available for me to actually buy it, but I finally got a copy of it a month or so ago at my local indie bookstore. Monday evening I finally finished it. Whew! Let me tell you, that was an interesting ride!

Anyway, there will be spoilers ahead, below the cut.

*Siren noises* WEEOOOO WEEEOOO SPOILER ALERT

Seriously, turn back now if you do not want some of the plot revealed to you. Last chance!!!

Onward! Read the rest of this entry »

“Kalimpura”

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I posted about reading Kalimpura by Jay Lake before, but since I’ve now finished it I can give a little more informed response to the book. Overall, I greatly enjoyed it and will certainly be seeking out the two prequels, Green and Endurance. Throughout, the style of the narrator Green is reflective, as she looks back on the events of her youth from great age. She alludes several times to events which happen later in her life, some of them seeming interesting enough to hope that Lake is not yet done with Green.

As I mentioned in my previous post, this third book of Green’s story is not well marked as such, and I’m afraid that does it a grave disservice. Without having read anything else by Lake, I still enjoyed it. But I know I missed some significant points throughout it, as I do not yet have the frame of reference provided in the prequels. For instance, I’m certain the very end is a reference in some way to the beginning of the first book. The context implies this, but as I haven’t read that book yet, the significance is lost on me. Still, I’m not sorry I continued reading.

Kalimpura opens with Green having recently given birth to twins, a girl and a boy. Green is a fighter, and evidently quite young and brash, so the enforced idleness of pregnancy and post-partum grate on her sensibilities. But the story is ultimately about her internal journey from that impetuous youngster to a more stable and thoughtful adult. Along the way she performs miracles, speaks familiarly to gods and Titans (the parents of the gods evidently), and strides through rivers of the blood of her enemies.

Green’s enemies have stolen her friend and fellow Lily Blade (a sect of warrior-women dedicated to a goddess of women) and another friend’s only child. Soon after the birth of her own children, she sets out to recover the hostages and defeat her enemies. At this point the plot becomes more complicated and confusing, involving several enemies all working together against Green. I think my confusion is mainly due to not having the appropriate context from earlier books, but it’s difficult to tell. However, it seems that nearly everyone wants to kill or capture Green for largely unspecified reasons. She manages to stay one step ahead of them, barely, and win allies for herself in the process. Eventually she succeeds and returns to living in the temple of her Lily Goddess.

There are several big themes in the book that I really like too. First, Green is a bad-ass queer woman of color. Her story isn’t about any of those aspects of her, they just are facts about her. Sometimes those facts contribute to her interactions with other characters and sometimes they don’t. This is so important. Especially because Green is young and brave and flawed and impetuous and foolish and special all at once. She’s an individual, not a stereotype, and we need more of those depictions of queer women of color in our literature.

Another theme in this book, though one that is rather lightly touched on, is the femininity and it’s nature as well as its relationship with masculinity. There is a sub-plot involving a sect of god-killing assassins who seek out and destroy goddesses in the name of masculinity or something. This is one of the things I would like to see expanded on in a later book(s), as I felt this thread was left a bit dangling. But, folded in with this exploration of femininity was some exploration of motherhood and what it meant to be one. Green herself is a mother, but her close friend Ilona is also a mother. The two are very different, one a warrior steeped in violence and the other a quieter sort, more scholar and priestess I think. Lake holds both up as examples of motherhood. This is another important portrayal. It’s rare to find a depiction of a woman who is simultaneously a mother of young children and an active fighter.

I’m glad I picked Kalimpura up on impulse at the library those weeks ago. I’m glad the cover drew me in and introduced me to an author I’d not yet read. I just wish there had been mention of the prequels so I could have checked them out at the same time! Still, this means there’s a library trip and new books in my near future, and those are always enjoyable.

Reading Wrong Way ‘Round

There’s really nothing like picking up an intriguing new book by an author you’ve never read before, liking the synopsis enough to start reading…and discovering that the book is clearly the tail-end of a series. *sigh*

I picked up Kalimpura by Jay Lake from the library a few weeks ago. It was in their SF/F new-releases section, and I liked the look of the cover. It has a woman of color carrying two babies in slings and a long knife in her hand, looking determined. Since I’ve become a mother, I’ve found myself more drawn to stories featuring mothers, so I was intrigued. It took me a few weeks to start it, as I didn’t feel emotionally up to it for a little while, but once I did I certainly have been enjoying it. Really, I only have one complaint, and that’s the lack of any signifier of its series-status on the cover or inside!

Honestly, I almost want to quit reading it (I’m not very far in yet). Mind you, I enjoy the character of Green so much and Lake’s style well enough that I want to start reading Green (the apparent first book of the trilogy) in its place. I just feel like I’m missing a lot in Kalimpura, references to the previous books. It’s been rather hard to work out what’s supposed to be going on and why.

Then again, I’ll probably just keep reading. Green just beat the snot out of an assassin who tried to threaten her children, despite being recently post-partum and out of shape. And before that she got uppity with a god of pain and got away with it. She’s pretty bad-ass. Also, this is my first Jay Lake book and I’m a little too early in the book to decide for sure whether I love the style. But I’ll say this:

For a middle-aged guy, Lake sure has a rock-solid grasp of what it’s like being a mother of newborns, complete with the leaking and weird feeling body and the intensity of emotion and the protectiveness.

I’ll probably post my thoughts on the complete book at some point. Most likely in 4 months or something. 😛

“A River in the Sky”

This is definitely not a book review.

First the disclaimer. This blog post will almost certainly not be a completely unbiased examination of the book, A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters. Simply put, the author is my personal idol, a woman whose life and work has not only touched me, but in fact changed and guided my life in very profound ways. Therefore, I do not claim to present an unbiased opinion on the book, only that it is my own opinion. The book itself, for those who do not yet know is the latest book in Elizabeth Peters’ wonderful Amelia Peabody Series. Elizabeth Peters is one of the pseudonyms of Barbara Mertz, Egyptologist and Author. This particular volume deviates somewhat from the rest of the series, in that it is set in Palestine (primarily Jerusalem and Samaria) rather than Egypt, and also interestingly, this appears to be only the second time Ms. Peters has written a book out of order*. This one is set during the 1910 excavation season (currently, the latest date of the Peabody books is set during the discovery of Tut’s tomb in 1922) which backtracks it back seven books. At this point, I must put up the obligatory spoiler warning. If you have not read the book and/or do not wish to read spoilers, do NOT read below the cut! Read the rest of this entry »