Friday, April 15, 2011

Curse of the Pharaohs Review by Becky

Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters
Rating: ★★★

I'm really kind of torn on what to rate this one... On the one hand, it's Amelia and Emerson, and they are brilliant characters, but on the other hand, there was just something about this book that left me a little... wanting.

I really enjoyed the first book in the series, "The Crocodile on the Sandbank", and fell in love with both Amelia and Emerson in that book. Amelia was so smart, and strong and sure of herself, and her biting wit and force of will made her a creature to be reckoned with. Emerson is gruff and rude and pushy and misanthropic and generally thinks that all others besides himself are morons. But hey, Emerson, when you're right, you're right. Crocodile was fun and the mystery was engaging and it was a great start to what should be an amazing series.

But I felt a little let down by the second book, honestly. The writing was still fantastic, though after the beginning, not quite as funny as I'd have liked. The beginning was perfect in my opinion, and set the bar high. Perhaps that's why I feel a bit let down. The story was great, and reminiscent of some classic mysteries (OK, mainly just one, which I'll touch on in a bit), but I just wanted a little bit of the sparkle that Amelia had in the first book back, and it seemed that was missing for me.

This story takes place 5 years after the events of Crocodile. Emerson and Amelia are married, and now have a baby, Walter Peabody Emerson (nicknamed Ramses for his precociousness and resemblance to the ancient Pharaoh) who is, to put it bluntly, hell on wheels. He shares his parents' proclivity towards Egyptology and archaeology and has no qualms about digging in and getting dirty in the pursuit. Cute little bugger.

Emerson and Amelia are called in as experts to help excavate a new-found tomb after the previous leader of the excavation team died, under what imagination-prone Amelia thinks is suspicious circumstances, as his assistant has gone missing. A reporter, covering local archaeological events, has intimated that the Egyptian gods are displeased with the tomb being opened and desecrated, and has claimed that there is a curse at work. Naturally E&A have no compunctions about getting back to work, curse or no curse, after being in England for so long, away from their beloved Egypt.

I think that the 5 years between when the first book ended and the second book began had more of an effect than intended. Amelia seemed a little distant and cold and, I'll just put it out there, bitter at times. She's spent 5 years away from Egypt, and now has a son, but Amelia isn't the parenting type, really. She referred to little Ramses as "it" for a large portion of the book, and seemed to think of him not as a child but as an unknown creature completely separate from herself. In fact, later on in the story, she was more affectionate towards a cat than she was toward Ramses in the beginning of the story.

I say this simply because I think that she will grow to be more comfortable with the role of "mother" in later books. It's not something that comes naturally to her, being very calculating and precise as she is. She has high expectations of everyone that she comes into contact with, and heaven help them if they don't meet them, including her son. That's not to say that she doesn't love her son - she does, she just does it in her own way, and most assuredly does not mollycoddle him.

The only other mother in the bulk of the story, Madame Berengeria, is an example to make Amelia look like a candidate for World's Best Mother. MB likes to dress and act as different Egyptian queens reincarnated, has a fondness for brandy, and an overabundance of malicious dramatic urges. Her daughter, sweet and innocent Mary is hard put to live with her.

Emerson takes naturally to being a father, and encourages little Ramses in his thirst for knowledge, as any parent would, even going so far as to have debates regarding the nature and origin of fossils dug up in the back yard. Like I said, cute little bugger.

Emerson and Amelia's interaction throughout the story didn't have the same wit and charm that it had in Crocodile. He barked and she allowed it, sort of, in her own way. She still did whatever she felt that she needed to do, but in a decidedly less direct way than she had before her marriage. I can understand this, marriages were different things back then, but Amelia has always been herself and let nothing decide her actions for her. You could tell that Amelia absolutely adores her husband, and that she respects and admires him as well, chiefly because she's narrating the story herself. Likewise, we know that Emerson's gruffness and commanding attitude isn't how he really feels about her, because she interprets for him. But an outsider look in might see things very differently, and wonder how they could stand each other.

Speaking of outsiders, there's a rather larger cast of characters in this book than there was in Crocodile, and it took me a little while to get everyone straight in their roles. There are some definitely interesting characters here, and I wonder if we might be seeing more of them later on in the series.

Coming back to what I hinted at before... parts of this book really reminded me of Agatha Christie's novel "And Then There Were None". A large cast of characters who all are suspicious and who could all be the culprit are all gathered together in one area while deaths abound.

I don't mind this really, as long as the story comes together and makes sense. And of course, Amelia and Emerson solved the puzzle before too many had died, so it was more of a homage than a copy-cat, but it had the feel.

I did like the story, and the characters... My main gripe is just that little missing something in Amelia that she hopefully hasn't outgrown or cast off after casting off her singleness. I hope that it comes back in the next installment...

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