Friday, September 2

A River in the Sky – Elizabeth Peters

The nineteenth in the Amelia Peabody series, about a pair of British Egyptologists and their growing family of blood and choice set in the first decades of the twentieth century. A River in the Sky and moves us back in time to 1910, before the production of grandchildren, but with the shadow of the Great War looming. Though Egypt is where Amelia and archaeologist husband Emerson’s hearts lie, they are persuaded to go to Palestine in pursuit of the inept Morley, who is hell-bent on discovering the Ark of the Covenant.
I do wish I could do justice the complicated, beautifully crafted, eminently readable world Peters has crafted – I like the setting, but i love the characters, particularly the relationships between Peabody and Emerson, and between them and Ramses. Sadly, in no small part because my reading pace has far exceeded the pace of my reviews, I have only a few fragments of specific memory from which to reconstruct a cohesive whole.
Emerson is, it will surprise nobody familiar with him, atheist, and his vehemence about the tissue of lies that comprises the Old Testament is profound. The opening pages also provide the first time, to my recollection, that Peabody has been mistaken, albeit in an area where the truth is only recently known; she says that:
If it is history you want, you had better skip on to the books of Kings and Chronicles. The historical validity of Exodus has been much debated – no, Emerson, I do not care to debate it now – but the lives of the kings of Israel and Judah are based on solid historical evidence.
Or made out of whole cloth.
I do admire the way Peters has created characters who, like Greenwood’s Phryne, have modern attitudes while retaining compatibility with their own era, rather than being contemporary characters in a historical setting.
As in, I think, all the novels featuring Ramses of age, the first-person Peabody narrative is intertwined with extracts from Manuscript H (because the series are presented as the publications of contemporary journals) that let us know what he’s up to in the absence of his parents. I found myself a little distracted on this occasion by who might have authored them in this scenario, which hasn’t previously troubled me, but that quickly passed as I became more fully emerged in the narrative.
I think the finest of this series is the first three books, and though there is enough context for the new reader to pick the series up at any point, I would strongly recommend beginning with Crocodile on the Sandbank to get the most out of the depth and richness of this quite lovely series. - Alex

No comments: