Sunday, January 04, 2009

He Shall Thunder in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters

Egypt and her hoary secrets are no match for New York Times-bestselling Grandmaster Elizabeth Peters and her indomitable archaeologist sleuth Amelia Peabody. The sand-and-windblown ambience of this strange and colorful world, the ancient enchantments and delicious menace are more vibrantly realized than ever in this thrilling new adventure that places the intrepid Amelia and her equally remarkable family in the dangerous path of an onrushing World War.

The pursuit of knowledge must never be deterred by Man's folly. So the close of 1914 finds Amelia Peabody and her husband Radcliffe Emerson back in Egypt for another season of archaeological excavation - despite the increasing danger of an attack on the Suez Canal and on Egypt itself. Trouble is brewing in Cairo and the defiantly pacifist stance of Amelia and Emerson's headstrong son Ramses is earning the young man the derision, and much worse, of the British expatriate community. Meanwhile, the charismatic nationalist el Wardani is said to be fomenting insurrection in the ancient city. And since there is no way to stand outside the political hurricane that is suddenly threatening their lives, Amelia plunges directly into it.

When el Wardani escapes a police dragnet, thanks to the direct intervention of Amelia and Emerson, the family's stake in a perilous game is raised considerably. But it's Ramses' strange secret role in it that could truly bring ruin down upon all their heads. However, there is more than intrigue and espionage, plots and counter plots, at work here. For an artifact uncovered at a Giza dig - an exquisite sculpture found where it ought not to be - confirms Amelia's most unsettling suspicion: that the chaos confirming Cairo has masked the nefarious reemergence of Amelia's villainous arch nemesis, Sethos, the Master Criminal.

It's been too long since I read an Amelia Peabody mystery, especially given the events of the last couple of books. Now that I have rectified that oversight I have a small problem - well, two actually. The first is that I can't write this review without spoilers, so reader beware. The second problem is that this book really felt like an ending of a series, and yet I know that there are at least 6 books that have been published since this book. I may be speculating completely inaccurately here, but I wonder if the reason for this was in effect just in case, because when this book was published in 2000, the author Elizabeth Peters, was already 73 years old, and maybe each of the books will feel complete. Given that the author is still writing, I may be completely off base. Anyway..

Elizabeth Peters has said that the four books that started with Seeing a Large Cat and then continued with The Ape Who Guards the Balance, The Falcon at the Portal and culminates in the events of this book formed an internal quartet within the overall series, and they are four of the best books in the series that I have read so far. Throughout these four books there has been unrequited love, impulsive actions, nationalistic fervour, heroism, spying, danger, subterfuge.

Without doubt, the stand out character of this book is Ramses. I often say that Amelia is a very lucky woman to have Emerson as her husband, but if it is possible, Ramses is even more of a catch. Tall, dark, handsome, principled, heroic, loyal and dashing! What's not to like.

The plot of this book is actually quite complex, and is definitely not a place for a new reader to start this series. WWI is raging, but that doesn't stop the Emerson's from setting up camp to dig in Egypt. Amelia and Emerson should be overjoyed! They finally have managed to get permission to dig at the more glamourous fields than they usually get, mainly because so many of their archaeologist friends are either on the wrong side of the war, or otherwise occupied.

When they comes across an extraordinary find that doesn't fit where it is in terms of its location and age, Amelia begins to suspect that her old nemesis, Sethos, has taken advantage of the chaos in Egypt to return to Cairo. The question is what he is up to? He is not the only one who is up to something, because there is a movement growing to try and gain independence from Britain for Egypt, through any means they can. As the Emerson's find themselves drawn into a complex web of events, it becomes a matter of life and death for more than one member of the family.

There is finally resolution in terms of the issues between Nefret and Ramses, and the scenes where Amelia finally is confided in and told what has happened between the two of them are some of the best in the series. In this book we see a lot more of the mother in Amelia. For so long in the series, this particular aspect has seemed to be missing, or at least very well hidden, but with her family very much in danger, we do see an Amelia who is prepared to show how much she loves her family.

Given that this does feel like an ending it will be interesting to see where the series goes next, especially given that it would appear that the author will have to create a whole new set of opponents instead of relying on the already well established arch nemesis Sethos, and also the nasty cousin Percy.

Whereever Peters chooses to take us next in this series, I am totally along for the ride!

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

Rosario's Reading Journal

Cross posted at Historical Tapestry


  1. I'm glad I read your review before reading Seeing a Large Cat. That's the next one for me in this series. Your review makes me anxious to read the next four.

  2. You are in for a treat with these next four books Booklogged!

  3. Interesting point you make about Peters' age Marg. I hadn't realised she was that old. So I guess you would write each new novel as if it was your last.

  4. Marg,
    You have a gift in my blog (my other blog, Mujeres Construyendo). You can drop by and pick it up. I`ll be glad to see you there.
    A big hug from Mexico.

  5. This one, together with "The Falcon at the Portal", are my very favourite Peabody books - probably not a surprise, bearing in mind my fondness for Ramses!

    I think each of the following books are can stand by themselves quite well. In fact, one of the ones written later is actually set earlier timeline-wise("Guardian of the Horizon"). Which is interesting because you can see how her writing has developed over the years, if you read the series in chronological order.

  6. Being an Egyptologist, I have never really wanted to read the Amelia Peabody books, but many fellow Egyptologists (and non-Egyptologists as well) seem to like them a lot, so I may give them a chance. Thanks for a great review though, which I read even though you said it contained spoilers.

  7. I've heard of these but I've never given them a try. I'll have to make sure to do that sometime soon!