Jun 14 2009
Dear Ms. Townsend,
Beyond an Egyptian setting, I wasn’t sure what to expect with “Blue Gold” as I didn’t read the description until after I’d finished the story. And what a story. It’s a sprawling 1970s miniseries crossed with a soap opera crossed with the epic sword and sandal movies made only in the 1950s. Plus it’s got almost as many characters as Cecile B. DeMille managed to pack into his films.
Since I can’t begin to summarize the entire plot, I’m going to be as lazy as a cat in the sun and steal the one from the Bookstrand website.
Ruling Upper Egypt from Thebes, Pharaoh Sekenenre has many enemies. Aweserre, whose grandfather seized the crown of Lower Egypt. Kamose and Ahhotpe, his son and daughter, who plot to rule in his place. And, most dangerous, the storm-god Set.
It is a time of famine. To prosper a man must be civilized and ruthless. Ramose, priest and Vizier, is all of these. Kasa, a farmer, must learn to be like him to survive. Neith, wife of Ramose, is driven, first to drink, then to courage. Hathor, who killed her son, finds love, desertion, then a second chance at love. Tiyi, the gentle masseuse, is desired by many, but desires only one.
Watched by the gods of Egypt, the conflict reaches its climax in war. The pyramids, a thousand years old when the story begins, play a crucial part.
Behind all is the God Set, with his question: ‘What am I?’
I applaud your ability to juggle the multiple subplots of the story and to manage to wind them together in a taut climax. But having said that, I will also confess to losing track of some of the minor characters during the course of the book. As mentioned above, there are lots and lots of them.
Since the book reads to me as more historical fiction than historical romance, I was willing to keep reading past some tricky issues. You give Hathor concrete reasons for what she did but murdering one’s own child might be a deal breaker. In addition, the fact that royal half-siblings act as royal half-siblings did in those days will squick other readers. Then there’s the almost casual violence – not loving described, thank goodness – that pervades much of the story. And female slaves were used sexually as female slaves have been down through the ages. All of this adds to the authentic feel of the book about an age which, quite frankly, isn’t that pretty but I gotta say that I think you’re going to lose some who don’t want to follow you into this much accurate historical detail.
Choosing this particular age, 1560 BC, in Egyptian history is quite clever. With the upheavals and the scarcity of historical records, you’ve got a more wide open canvas upon which to paint the story you want to tell. “Blue Gold” gets me doing what I love for historical books to do and that’s research the people, places and things used to tell the story. I learned all kinds of things about Hyksos rulers of Lower Egypt, the god Set, the f’ed up family of Sekenenre, the land of Punt and kedeshahs.
Some of my favorite sections of the book are those in which the ancient gods and goddesses of Egypt, plus the sleek silver goddess Astarte, note and comment on the current action of the book. In a way, it reminds me a bit of the Iliad. These gods aren’t stiff, proper dullards but rather come across as petty, griping, mischievous troublemakers trying to ‘one up’ each other as they scheme for power and dominance over each other and men.
Aweserre is, hands down, my favorite character. The scamp just oozes charisma, charm and recklessness. I can easily see him as the type of military man who can ignite his followers and get them to follow him through the gates of hell. But he’s also a man who doesn’t care if he’s shorter than most men because he knows he’s better than most men. He can kick anyone’s ass from a chariot as well as go undercover and find the love of his life while acting like a clown.
He and the other characters also avoid something which bothered me in “Flavia’s Secret” and that’s being too good to be true. These characters are balanced. None are all good and none are totally bad. Some veer more towards an end of the spectrum but I can see why they do this. A steward has been oppressed and sees a chance for advancement. A petty criminal deals with the lawlessness of the time. A neglected wife turns to wine. A fanatical priest feels he’s doing his patriotic duty. It doesn’t mean I liked all these people and certainly wouldn’t want to sit down to dinner with some of them but they have depths and are well rounded.
What ultimately lowers the grade somewhat is the length of the story. It’s long. It’s involved. It seems like it goes on forever at times. Not that I didn’t like the details or didn’t care about the characters but it took me two days of intensive reading to finally finish it. Readers would be well advised to take some intermissions to prevent burnout. Also, the deaths of some of the characters got me a tad twitchy about which ones I wanted to invest a lot of emotion in.
But I’m glad I read it and thank you for sending it to me. It’s not often that ancient Egypt is the setting for novels so I don’t want to miss any of them. My house miu also sends his greetings and says more books about the time when cats were worshipped need to be written.