Posts Tagged ‘egypt’
Some time ago I read the first of James Douglas’s “Jamie Saintclair” thrillers, and I’ve been awaiting thne opportunity to get to the second. Well, now I’ve finally read The Isis Covenant.
There is a certain genre of tale that was made popular by Dan Brown, owing to Indiana Jones and revolving around the mystical and the occult in the modern world. And despite Brown’s fame, there are plenty of writers who, to my mind, are better examples. One is Simon Toyne. Another is James Douglas.
Douglas’ thrillers strike, for me, a superb balance. They revolve around an art dealer and antiquarian, which links the modern to the ancient and strikes a chord with the historian in me. And they revolve around mystical objects, whether they be true or simply misinterpretations of the mundane, which adds the thrill. And finally, at least with the first two books, they connect with the Second World War and the Nazi lunatics’ search for occult items to help empower their master race (a subject that’s a guilty pleasure for me). Superb mix, and guarenteed to hit the spot in at least some way for most readers.
The Isis Covenant takes characters and some dangling threads from the first book in the series and reintroduces them, tugging on those threads and using them to weave a whole new story.
A twisted son, a vengeful neo-Nazi, a stymied cop and Jamie Saintclair all seeking an ancient Egyptian crown and the priceless stone that has long been separated from it together believed to bestow prolonged life. And the search will take them into the world of ageing secret Nazis, Russian gangsters, American assassins and so much more.
Utterly satisfying, well-plotted, gripping and colourful, the Isis Covenant is a perfect sequel to the first great book in the series.
You might remember that some time back I reviewed the first short story in this series with mixed feelings due to the heavy use of modern vernacular. Well, recently I have been reading pre-publication manuscripts, my own work for heavy edits and very serious research texts, and so with a couple of days free, I picked up the second book, and thought ‘I’ve done too much heavy stuff recently, so why not?’
I’m glad I did. I cannot be certain whether it was because this time I was prepared for what I was about to read, or possibly that with a second story, Johnston had honed his craft some, but I enjoyed Caesar’s Emissary far more than the first book.
These, by the way, are very much not serious, heavy Historical Fiction. If you are looking for another Ben Kane or Conn Iggulden, you’re looking in the wrong direction. But if you’re looking for an entertaining light read to fill in a few hours, then look no further.
The humour in these books is akin to Ron Gompertz, I would say, if a little more direct. There is an odd undercurrent of the old ‘film noir voiceover’ in the way they are written. In this volume, Mettius is talked into going to Alexandria to sort out the grain shipments there. In the process he gets himself tangled up with the Ptolomaic rulers and all sorts. The highlight for me was a scene in a bar with a local comedian doing his skit.Sounds barking mad, but for some reason it worked and was a truly entertaining scene with some real laugh-out-loud lines.
This, for instance, is a joke from the sketch about the Ptolomaic dynasty:
“The other night [my wife] said she wanted to have sex with her brother. I told her I wasn’t in the mood.”
And here’s part of his description of Alexadria, which I love:
“Wild statues of bird gods and those weird animals with human heads they called sphinxes were everywhere. It was as if some deity had grabbed a cauldron and mixed Greek aesthetics, the Egyptian fascination with the afterlife, a pinch of balmy climate and a shitload of money…”
I think I am rapidly warming to these short, humorous episodes. And if you are a student of the era you will find a lot of in-jokes and colour that will sit well with you. Johnston’s stories have become my palate cleanser of choice between larger works.
Something a little different for you this week. Two short novellas from two excellent writers, both of whom are contributors to the imminent ‘A Year of Ravens’ to which I have added my own humble tale. And both of these works are available on kindle for free, by the way!
First up we have The Three Fates by Kate Quinn
Kate is an author of both ancient and Renaissance novels, though to me (and to many) she is best known for her tales of Rome’s more powerful women during the height of the empire. I recently read and reviewed ‘Lady of the Eternal City’, her latest, and you can check out my review here. I was perusing potential things to add to my kindle when I came across The Three Fates (and the second novella I will be reviewing). Instant download. The Three Fates, I will say from the off, is definitely not a standalone work. As Kate mentions in her notes, this is, in fact, the original beginning of that aforementioned novel, which was later cut and then made it into the world as a free novella by way of introduction. But then, it’s free, so it doesn’t matter to the reader if it is more of a prologue than a tale in itself.
The Three Fates is more of an introduction to the characters (or a reintroduction if you have read Empress of the Seven Hills). It doesn’t have a nicely-defined end, but it does provide a very good introduction to the protagonists and antagonists of ‘Lady’. As a taster it does the job impeccably. It introduces you in a short read to Kate’s writing, which is heady and absorbing and brings the perils and glories of the Hadrianic court into glorious light. Download it for free, read it and see whether you want to go on. I would recommend doing so, having read ‘Lady’, but with this novella you can make up your own mind with no pressure.
Secondly, I also found The Princess of Egypt Must Die by Stephanie Dray
I find it harder to comment on this one as an introduction since I’ve not yet read Stephanie’s ‘Lily of the Nile’ to which this connects. The difference between this and Kate’s is that this novella can stand alone as a read. Taking the story from Alexandria to the mountains of Thrace, this story hooked me for the oddest of reasons. Not because of the writing, which is certainly high quality, atmospheric and gripping, and not because of the characters, though they are well fleshed out and believable. And not because of the point of view, since it is written in first-person present tense, which is not my favourite POV to read from.
No. This hooked me because it is a fantastic, strange and wonderful mix, belonging to an era of great change and cultural mixing, when the pharaohs were as much Macedonian as they were Egyptian. The world is an odd mix of Egyptian, Greek, Macedonian, and even more barbarous peoples such as the Thracians. And Stephanie seems to have submersed herself in the cultures of all of them and got into the heads of her characters who feel truly alive in a fascinating world. In fact, it was so absorbing that Lily of the Nile is now on my list, largely because having read the novella I need to read on…
So there you go. Two free novellas to help you while away an hour or two. I highly recommend them both.
Happy Thursday, all.
So, I was watching the Big Bang Theory and listening to its rather catchy theme tune, and noted the mention of the Wall and the Pyramids, which got me to thinking about what Herodotus would have included on his list of Wonders of the Ancient World if he had had access to more exotic places? The Great Wall would probably not have been one, since the wall as we know it is much later, the early versions not being up to Herodotus’ mark, I feel. And that led me to wondering what my Seven Wonders would be. So I’ve set myself the task to work it out.
The criteria must be the same as those available in the ancient world when ‘roddy wrote that list that rested in the library of Alexandria. Of the original seven wonders, only tiny fragments remain of most of them. Only the Great Pyramid at Giza still stands entire. So my seven wonders must be there and visible. I am going to allow ‘ruinous’ of course. And I must have been there. How can I compile a recommended list if I haven’t seen them?
1. The Pyramids of Giza
Image by Ricardo Liberato via Wikimedia Commons
Yes, the only survivor from the original list. Who could deny they’re a wonder? Quite simply they are breathtaking. Sadly, with every year, they are a little more invisible through hordes of tourists. Every year the urban sprawl of Cairo gets a little nearer to enveloping them. Already between the two visits I made to this amazing site (in 1982 and 2006) the city moved frighteningly closer. And given the troubles in Egypt, one has to fear for their future safety. But still… they remain an icon of the past and rightly so. Nice one, Herodotus!
2. The Ayia Sofya (or Haghia Sophia)
Image by Philz via Wikimedia Commons
Not around until long after our Roddy made his list. The great church of Holy Wisdom was started by Constantine II, and there were several rebuilds between 360AD and 532 when the current structure was commissioned by Justinian. It is simply the most breathtaking religious building I have ever set foot in. It is a symbol of Europe and Turkey and Byzantium and Rome, the blueprint for the Ottoman mosques for half a millennium. Among the fascinating oddities to be found within are runic carvings by one of the Viking Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Emperor who went by the name of Halfdan. The place leaves me speechless.
3. The amphitheatre of Pozzuoli
Image by Ferdinando Marfella via Wikimedia Commons
The Colosseum is magnificent, yes. El Jem is wondrous. I am led to believe Pula’s amphitheatre is astounding. Yet surprisingly few people mention the great Flavian amphitheatre of Pozzuoli in Italy (near Naples.) It’s only a little smaller than the Colosseum (3rd largest in Italy), constructed only a few years later, and is easily better preserved than any of those previous three I mentioned. It is simply astounding to walk around and beneath. While I find most amphitheatres to be dead, emotionless structures (while still wondrous), the one at Pozzuoli sent a shiver through me. I felt loss there. Perhaps it is too intact not to?
4. The Siq at Petra
Image by David Bjorgen via Wikimedia Commons
I guess everyone knows this because of Indiana Jones if nothing else. But Petra blew my mind. All of it. You can’t see Petra in a day. You can’t see it all in 3 days. But the core area, in particular the Siq are easily taken in. The siq was a crevasse through the rock that contituted the main entrance to the city. It is astounding to walk through. Roman paving is visible beneath your feet and an aqueduct channel runs along at your side, dry for millennia. Carvings crop up here and there, and tombs are visible high in the rocks. And in places where the Siq opens up, you find carved monuments such as the Treasury (see above). How could that NOT make it to a list of the great seven?
5. Hadrian’s Wall
Image by Michael Hanselmann via Wikimedia Commons
I can”t imagine I need to do much enthusing about Hadrian’s Wall. It is quite simply one of the most amazing and evocative monuments in the world. Not only was it a feat of sheer engineering and planning brilliance, but it also marks something unique. It represents that very moment when Rome stopped expanding and defined borders. Until Hadrian, the idea that Rome had a limit was a flight of fancy. Despite the Roman influence that continued beyond the wall, for that reason alone, Hadrian’s wall marks the edge of the Roman world for me.
6. The Baths of Caracalla
Image by Pascal Reusch via Wikimedia Commons
There are many great bath houses of Roman construction, even in Rome. The baths of Trajan and Diocletian remain. Further afield, those of Licinius in Dougga, or Antoninus in Carthage. But those of Caracalla stand as a testament to the sheer scale of such monuments. The remaining decoration; the enormous walls; the supplying aqueduct and cistern; Mind-blowing. And, though not open to the visitor, the underground passages remain, with rooms and furnaces, shrines and more. It is, to me the height of the Roman bath house and will ever remain so.
7. The harbour of Carthage
By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The navy that actually beat Rome! Yes, Carthage for a while actually held the might of Rome at bay. They had the most advanced navy in the world, in history in fact. And the military harbour at Carthage was a wonder worthy of that fleet. Take a look at the picture above, as it survivies today. Upon a time, imagine this image, but with the circle complete, both the island’s edge and the outer circuit home to endless what are essentially hangars for warships. Room for around 300 warships to be berthed, each in its own building on an inland port with swift access to the sea by a channel. On the island’s centre was the admiralty. I stood on that road on the left side of the picture a few years ago and was simply stunned into silence.
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So there you go. That’s my Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Now, all those of you who blog… let’s hear yours? I’m intrigued.