The Curse of the Pharaohs, by Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody #2)

>> Monday, October 24, 2005

I started to reread the early books in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series last year, but, like many of my rereading projects, it didn't really go anywhere. I read the first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank and loved it all over again, but I only got around to starting the second one, The Curse of the Pharaohs, a couple of weeks ago.

The joys of home and hearth are about to drive Victorian gentlewoman Amelia Peabody Emerson mad. While she and her husband, the renowned archeologist Radcliffe Emerson, dutifully go about raising their young son Ramses, she dreams only of the dust and detritus of ancient civilizations. Providentially, a damsel in distress -- coupled with a promising archeological site -- demands their immediate presence in Egypt.
The damsel is Lady Baskerville, and the site is a tomb in Luxor recently discovered by Sir Henry Baskerville -- who promptly died under bizarre circumstances. The tabloids immediately scream "The Curse of the Pharaohs!"

Amelia and Radcliffe arrive to find the camp in disarray, the workers terrified, and a most eccentric group of guests. A ghost even appears.

This is not at all what Amelia considers an atmosphere conducive to scientific discovery. Never one to deny others the benefit of her advice and example, the indomitable Victorian sets about bringing order to chaos and herself that much closer to danger. How Amelia triumphs over the forces of evil -- and those who would stand between her and her beloved antiquities -- makes for a delightfully spirited adventure.
Reading these early books is like coming home again. This is what got me into reading the series. An A.

Don't get me wrong; I did very much enjoy the latest books I read in the series (I'm only up to The Golden One), at least as I was reading them. However, now, from a bit of a distance, what I remember the most is a feeling of soap-operaishness (is that a word?), especially in the internal quartet that develops Ramses and Nefret's romance.

And even the last book, which I thought was somewhat of a throwback to the early books, as it didn't have a WWI setting, the romances were already settled and the plot was mostly archaeological, felt as if it lacked a certain something.

The Curse of the Pharaohs lacks nothing at all. The setting, the cast of characters (oh, how I love Ramses as a child! And the cat Bastet! And Cyrus Vandergelt!), the plot, and, most of all, Amelia herself.

Amelia is one of the best written narrators I've ever read. She's funny and flawed and human and admirable. Peters very definitely does not fall into the Mary Sue trap, and she's not afraid of poking a bit of fun at Amelia. Even through Amelia's own narration, people's feelings about her are perfectly clear, and they aren't always pretty, even when Amelia thinks they are!

For instance, say a person who Amelia thinks admires her actually is fond of her, but finds her a bit ridiculous sometimes: that is perfectly conveyed. Or say Amelia feels a certain way about someone, but prefers to pretend she doesn't when she writes: that is perfectly conveyed as well.

In fact, Amelia is such a strong narrator that even the stylistic quirks made me think "Oh, that's so like Amelia", as if she'd really had written it. Things like the flowery passages which parody Ryder Haggard's She. When I was reading them, I saw Amelia in my mind writing them and smiling at what she would have though a particularly lyrical turn of phrase. Or when Cyrus spoke in that exaggerated "aw-shucks" Americanized manner, it was obvious to me that this was the way Amelia remembered it when she wrote it.

The plots themselves, both the excavation and the murder mystery, were enormously entertaining. I loved the allusions to Tutankhamon and it was fun thinking "if only they knew how close they are!" And the murder mystery read almost like Agatha Christie (actually, with the expedition house setting and everything, it was faintly reminiscent of Murder in Mesopotamia).

I'm definitely continuing with my rereading, and I swear I won't let so much time pass before my next read. Actually, I've already put The Mummy Case in my purse!


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