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review 2017-02-03 17:13
For the Love of Philae
For the Love of Philae - Christian Jacq,Marcia de Brito

There are differences of opinion regarding this book. A friend of mine found it slow and often boring and commented that the author had managed to waste a great idea. I had not then read the book; I had, however, been reading Confessions of a Pagan Nun, which I found superb (I must post a review of that here, too) and it occurred to me that the two books had a great deal in common. Both were set in the 6th Century and both depicted the Church Militant stamping out the still-glowing embers of the indigenous religion, in one case the Catholicism of Rome crushing the last practitioners of Celtic druidism, in the other the Orthodoxy of Byzantium persecuting the few remaining adepts of the ancient Isis-cult.


It is true that it is slow. Christian Jacq is a slow writer. In the Ramses series, it takes him five books to tell a story that any other writer would have told in one. But he has his good side.


For a start, he is an expert on ancient Egypt.


So I read For the Love of Philae.


One problem is the translation, which is often wordy and clumsy, and occasionally absurd. "I know how to oar" says the general, leaping into the boat. The priestess "dialogued with the spirit that …" The bishop was "wearing his long red dress". "You had the impudence of reading" a private document, the Prefect protests. "Half the adepts remained prostrated, sitting on their heels," we are told, and "The community chanted a slow introverted psalm" and, of the High Priestess, that "a green hue enhanced the curb of her eyebrows". Sometimes, as in "You will have face a tempest" (stet), the problem may be a typo, but it is all very careless and off-putting. The editor is quite as much to blame here as the translator.


That said, and apart from that, I found the book fascinating. I never once wanted to lay it aside; quite the contrary. I realised immediately that I knew little or nothing about sixth-century Egypt (or, thinking about it, sixth-century Greece); now I do, and I learnt in (as Heinlein once said) "the nicest possible way". I have an image in my mind of one small part of Egypt in 534-5 AD, and of one small group of people who lived there.



The place is Elephantine, an island in the Nile, far to the south, close to the first cataract:a historic island, once the home of the only Jewish temple outside Jerusalem and the heart of a heretical form of diaspora-Judaism; and also the heart and home of Isis worship, where the mystery of Isis and Osiris (the dying-rising god) was celebrated. (The picture shows the Temple of Philae as it is now.)


The people are the High Priestess, Isis, direct descendant of Cleopatra and the pharaohs (and so beautiful that she is held by all and sundry to be the incarnation of the goddess Isis herself), her lover, the new young High Priest, Sabni, and other adepts of the Isis cult that still – no, not flourishes, but at least survives intact, a pure flame still burning, on this island.


Opposed to them are Theodore, the Christian bishop, childhood friend of Sabni; and Maximin, the prefect of the province, appointed by the Emperor in Constantinople (these were the early years of Justinian and Theodora).


Bishop Theodore protects the Isis temple and cult for Sabni's sake, pretending that it does not exist. Sabni's side of the bargain is that they should keep a very low profile.

Then the Prefect falls in love with Isis. And the auguries are that for the second year in succession the Nile will not flood adequately and there will be famine in the province; the bishop's prayers are failing to move the ancient gods that, the people believe, still control the great river: only Isis, the people believe, can help them now. And the Prefect, Maximin, agrees with them.


A poor translation but a good story, memorable characters that you can't help loving – or hating – and a really great setting.

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review 2017-01-27 19:12
Thebes of the Hundred Gates
Thebes of the Hundred Gates - Robert Silverberg

 A short novel – 30,000 words or so, hardly more than a novella – by one of the grand masters of the genre.


In Thebes of the Hundred Gates, the Time Service in Home Era (like NOW) sends a young "volunteer" (none of the more experienced operatives will touch it) back to ancient Egypt in search of two of their own who overshot the mark and got lost in time a year and a half earlier. Now Service investigators have managed to pinpoint them in Thebes – Thebes at the height of its splendour, under Amenhotep III. That's the pharaoh whose son, Amenhotep IV, is better known as the great heretic Akhenaten, husband of Nefertiti. (I have a couple of books about those two I want to review here some time.)


Edward Davis materialises in the heat and dirt of a secluded back alley and immediately falls ill. Not because of the filth ...


Two donkeys stood just in front of him, chewing on straw, studying him with no great curiosity. A dozen yards or so behind him was some sort of rubble-heap, filling the alley almost completely. His sandal-clad left foot was inches from a row of warm green turds that one of the donkeys must have laid down not very long before. To the right flowed a thin runnel of brownish water so foul that it seemed to him he could make out the movements of giant microorganisms in it, huge amoebas and paramecia, grim predatory rotifers swimming amgrily against the tide.


But he had been innoculated against anything Thebes might come up with. No, it was temporal shock – it's like "a parachute jump without the parachute", they had told him, jumping so far uptime, "but if you live through the first five minutes you'll be okay." He had been back 600 years before, but never anything like this.


He loses consciousness, and when he wakes up, finds himself in a temple, and in the capable hands of Nefret, Priestess of Isis. However, she seems only to want to be rid of him. As soon as he recovers, she arranges for him to live and work among the embalmers, the mummifiers, in the necropolis on the other side of the Nile.


A refuge, yes. But he is little more than a slave there, and he has only thirty days – twenty-eight left now – before his rendez-vous for pick-up at exactly midday back in that alley. How can he hope to track down the missing time travellers from there, on the wrong side of the river?


A wonderful glimpse, not only of the world of the future where people travel uptime and back downtime – it is still, obviously, the early days of time travel – but also of the past, of Thebes of the Hundred Gates, teeming with people, all of them, in the childhood of the world, concerned with only one thing: death, and the afterlife; and reincarnation.


This little book is perfect.

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review 2017-01-10 12:59
The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season -- Bonus Entry
Der Weltensammler - Ilija Trojanow
Collector of Worlds, the - Ilija Trojanow

I blacked out my card on Dec. 19 using the "activity" entry for the Kwanzaa square, but since thereafter I did read a book set (partially) in Africa, too, here's my "bonus entry" post ... sorry for reporting in belatedly; blame it on BookLikes posting issues and a surfeit of things going on all at the same time in my life at present. :(


Not that it still seems to matter greatly to begin with, alas ... (sigh).


Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds) is a novelized biography of 19th century polymath and explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who traveled widely in India, the Middle East and Africa, visiting Mecca (disguised as an Arab) and seeking -- partially successfully, though he didn't know it -- the source of the Nile (he did make it to Lake Victoria, but failed to confirm that the Nile actually does originate from there).  He is best remembered today for his translation of The 1001 Nights.


Interesting, though quite obviously largely fictitious insights into a fascinating life, and a voyage back through time to the Orient, Africa, and British Empire of the 19th century.


Snow Globes: Reads
Bells: Activities


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text 2016-09-27 06:03
The Reed Fields by Brandon Campbell - DNF at 15%
The Reed Fields: An Egyptian Tragedy - Brandon Campbell

I have read many fantastic historical fiction books set in ancient Egypt, but unfortunately this was not one of them. I don't think the writer did any research and if he did, it was cursory at best. Granted, I only read about 15% of this book, but that was too much. Simplistic writing that seemed done by an elementary school student, dialogue that was unrealistic for the time, bland characters...it was a mess. I just couldn't take it anymore.


Not recommended at all!!

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review 2016-09-23 15:13
Counted With The Stars (Out Of Egypt #1) by Connilyn Cossette
Counted With the Stars (Out From Egypt) - Connilyn Cossette

Sold into slavery by her father and forsaken by the man she was supposed to marry, young Egyptian Kiya must serve a mistress who takes pleasure in her humiliation. When terrifying plagues strike Egypt, Kiya is in the middle of it all. To save her older brother and escape the bonds of slavery, Kiya flees with the Hebrews during the Great Exodus. She finds herself utterly dependent on a fearsome God she's only just beginning to learn about, and in love with a man who despises her people. With everything she's ever known swept away, will Kiya turn back toward Egypt or surrender her life and her future to Yahweh?






Many of us are pretty familiar with the biblical stories of plagues that rained down upon the people of Egypt (we're talking BC days) -- locusts, frogs, rivers with water that turned to blood. livestock and crops decimated, Egyptians overcome with boils! Author Connilyn Cossette takes those familiar tales and infuses them with some relatability for her readers. 


Our story opens in 1448 BC where we are introduced to Kiya, the privileged daughter of Jofare, a successful ship merchant / trader. At least he was successful for a time. Shortly after the reader meets Kiya, doing some frivolous shopping in the marketplace, she is urgently summoned home. Once there, she enters her father's office to find him with his back turned to her, his business partner, Shefu, also in the room. After some hesitation, the news is broken to Kiya that she has been sold into slavery to Shefu to pay off the debt of a massive loan Shefu gave Jofare. Tragically, five of Jofare's ships were sunk, the loss sinking his business in turn. Selling Kiya to Shefu was the only way to spare Jofare's wife and son. So Kiya is forced to relinquish all aspects of the life she knew and take up the clothes and position of servant to Shefu's cold-hearted wife, Tekurah. 



Through lowered lashes, I surveyed the room for people I knew -- and there were many. Old business partners, friends, even some distant relatives of my mother and father were in attendance. None looked my way. Either they refused to acknowledge a common slave, or they mercifully ignored my existence as they reveled in the privileges that I was now denied. 


I was at Tekurah's mercy because of such decadence -- the food, the dresses, the jewels. My father had always hosted the most extravagant of parties, our villa packed with people arrayed in their finest. And when the time came to repay his debts, he sold my freedom, not his own. Though I'd once delighted in the parties, the wigs, the cosmetics, the gold and silver, now the abundance made me ill. All the vapid people who had once filled my world, seemed to hang on my every word, now refused to meet my eye.... I dug my nails deeper and deeper into my palms. Cowards.


The novel spends some chapters giving the reader a feel for what life for a slave in that time might have been like -- being a breath away from all the riches in the world, yet unable to partake except to tidy up the mess the entitled might leave behind. If a slave was lucky, there might be some scraps to partake of, but no promises. Cossette is quite adept at bringing Kiya's new world to life: the sound of sandals down the hall, early mornings gathering water at the river, standing in the shadows of banquets, observing. Insane attention to detail in the early parts of this novel, almost to the point of distraction. I started off enjoying it but then found myself wondering when we'd get to the meat of the story. Stick with it readers! Those early chapters are largely world-building set up. The pay-off comes when Kiya survives all the various plagues.


The Egyptians blame the Hebrews, who appear virtually untouched by all that has befallen Egypt, for bringing this blight on their nation. A decree is announced that the firstborn son of every family will be murdered. The Hebrew people, encouraged by their leader Moses, decide to trek across the desert in hopes of reaching a place they can start new lives as "the chosen people". Kiya, who also appears untouched though she's Egyptian, is freed by Shefu when he feels the end is near. After reuniting with her mother and brother, Jumo, Kiya begins her journey across the desert with her new Hebrew friend (and former fellow slave) Shira, along with Shira's family and other members of the Hebrew community. Kiya is not driven by any religious conviction though; she simply wants to save the life of Jumo. Not only is he a first born son, but he is also physically and mentally handicapped. 


The journey across the desert is long and arduous. Not only do the Hebrews fear being found and attacked by the Pharoah's men but they must also struggle through various wild animal predators, violent thunderstorms (which often cause raging floods whenever the travelers are around a wadi), food or water shortages. No one knows where they are going exactly, only that they feel compelled to follow a bluish-purple cloudy beam of light that lights the sky day and night. Kiya even calls the beam "blue fire".



We were imprisoned by our escape route. Pharaoh behind us; the threat of flood all around.



During the months of travel, Kiya gets more acquainted with two men, specifically -- Eben, Shira's older brother, and Sayaad, a fellow Egyptian who later joins the traveling party. The acquaintance between Kiya and Eben is a strained one at first, as Eben lays the blame for his father's death at the feet of ALL Egyptians. Still, he develops a bond with Jumo and cannot deny his interest in Kiya, much as it confuses him. When he sees her getting close with Sayaad, Eben tries to warn Kiya that Sayaad is not entirely the good guy he seems. Sayaad tries to win Kiya over with his big plans to sneak them back into Egypt but one fateful night reveals his true motive. 


Not only does this novel feature stunning world building, but the reader is also taken in by the topsy-turvy way about the characters. Nothing and no one is what they seem! While this can be frustrating at times for a reader, when you feel duped for falling in like with "one of the bad ones", it makes the ride so much more fun! It's impressive how much life Cossette breathes into stories you've likely heard a million times in Sunday school. She also incorporates touching themes -- the idea of loving one's family regardless of the strife they bring to your life; the beauty of children with spirits unaffected by bias or prejudice; learning that the softest hearts can lie under the most stern faces. It was also nice to see Kiya struggle with her ideas of faith and a higher power, her working through those feelings that because she's not getting the answers she wants then it must mean she is unacknowledged and unimportant to that higher being. But then of course she learns the lesson that the right answer is not always one in the same with the wanted answer. 


This series is perfect for fans of biblical fiction with epic scope. Even if you don't normally do this genre but like evocative environments, try this one out! 



FTC Disclaimer: Bethany House Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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