When I read a historical novel set in medieval England, I feel like I’m on at least moderately familiar ground, as I’ve read so much set in that era. I’m even beginning, due to last summer’s reading binge (and HBO) to feel a little at home in ancient Rome. But there’s a special kind of pleasure in reading a historical novel set in a place and time I don’t know well. Pauline Gedge’s books about ancient Egypt (this is the second series of hers I’ve read) fall into this category.
It’s definitely more work, to try to enter imaginatively into a country and an era that are so alien to me, but Gedge paves the way beautifully, creating a vivid and realistic Egypt. Her descriptions are good and her research is obviously exhaustive — yet doesn’t intrude too much on the narrative. These two books, the first two of a trilogy, tell the story of Huy son of Hapu, born a peasant, who rises to become the titular “Seer of Egypt.” Huy is a believably complex character, as are his family, friends and associates, and I was intrigued by his story and interested in its outcome from the very beginning.
Another great thing about reading novels when you’re not so familiar with the history is that you don’t know how the story will end. I’d never heard of Huy before and I’m not familiar with the reigns of the Pharaohs of that time, so I have no idea where the plot is going. That lends some real suspense that’s not always present in historical fiction based on real characters.
The details about Egyptian religion and the book of Thoth were intriguing but sometimes a bit too arcane for me to follow, perhaps because it’s not something I have a strong interest in. But the human story is real and intriguing enough that I’m looking forward to Book 3 … though I haven’t yet been able to find out when it’s coming out, so I may have to wait awhile.