The fortunes of a stonecutter's son take drastic turns in this novella from Rubalcaba (Saint Vitus' Dance, 1996), set 3,300 years ago in the Egypt of Ramses II. Nine-year-old Senmut's happiness comes to an abrupt end when a cobra bite takes his father to death's door, and when he accidentally commits an act of sacrilege by killing a dove. Banished to the deadly gold mines of Nubia, Senmut still contrives to carve an amulet in the image of Sekhmet, goddess of illness, in hopes of saving his father. So fine is the work that the overseer sends it and Senmut back to plague-ridden Thebes, where Merneptah, the Pharaoh's son, lies stricken with smallpox. There Senmut hears that his father is alive; when Merneptah recovers, too, the joyful Ramses rewards Senmut with a court position. Rubalcaba compensates, at least partly, for the sketchy, conventional plot with a protagonist who is both clever and genuinely childlike, along with plenty of carefully articulated details of ancient Egyptian life.