Set against the backdrop of the Ptolemaic Kingdom in an alternate history linking the power of the pharaohs to magic, this first installment of a trilogy details the beginnings of a war pitting brother against brother.
As the debut novel opens, King Ptolemy IV, Macedonian ruler of Egypt, is distraught over the apparent murder of his friend and mentor, Qibo (“Multiple gashes covered his body. His eyes stared at the ceiling, as if he could still see whatever had killed him”). The ancient Taoist master had worked at the Museum of Alexandria for years. This act seems to be the dark culmination to a number of days in which Ptolemy has been plagued with nightmares laced with what appear to be strange signs. He dreams he is the Pharaoh Amenhotep, worrying over his kingdom and suffering from dental pain, the latter of which seems to affect Ptolemy’s waking hours as well. After exhuming the dead pharaoh’s body, experts discover that he did indeed have advanced abscesses in his teeth, which leads head librarian Eratosthenes to posit that someone might be working magic against the king, perhaps to re-create history. The theory is that Qibo was murdered to prevent him from translating ancient tablets that might help Ptolemy unlock the magical powers of a set of 12 amulets that have been in the possession of the pharaohs for untold years, each associated with a different element. Using the artifacts, someone might be able to wrest control of the kingdom. As the story proceeds, Price paints a vivid, intricate portrait of war, juggling a wide array of famous characters, including the notorious Hannibal, and using meticulous research to flesh out this universe, rooted in historical facts and details. The prose is rich and involving, and the twists are carefully designed and executed. The only quibble is that the characters aren’t particularly complex, with the plot machinations remaining more important than psychology. Ultimately, this is a small complaint that doesn’t detract from the book’s impressive accomplishments.
An inventive blend of Egyptian history and magic, this dynastic tale opens what promises to be a stellar series.