Author: Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody, vol. 11
My rating: 4.5 of 5
The 1911 season looks to be one full of drama for Amelia Peabody what with the weddings, the weird family drama between Nefret and Ramses, the political intrigue and drug dealers on the loose, the random child popping up claiming to belong to Ramses. And of course, the rash of forgeries attributed to Ramses’ best friend, David–falsely attributed, obviously, but proving that is being a bit challenging. Maybe it’s a good thing the only site Emerson was able to get this season is a bit boring on the whole.
I absolutely always love Peters’ Amelia Peabody books; there’s some great history combined with lots of thrills, good humor, suspense, mystery, and romance. Basically, they’re just good historical adventures all around. The Falcon at the Portal fills this excellently, although I do have to say that it’s just generally less cohesive than some of the other stories in this series. Honestly, there’s just so much going on that it’s hard to keep track sometimes of what’s actually important. Add to that the fact that you’ve got three separate narrators (even though I love having Nefret and Ramses’ perspectives), and the story can be a bit all over the place at times. But really, I feel like the actual mystery plot takes second place to the character development and drama in this volume anyhow, so it’s not such a big deal to miss plot threads at times. And wow is there some drama going on here! For one, we’ve got some actual development in one of my favorite (of all time, not just of this series) ships–Nefret and Ramses. Plus the whole mess with Amelia’s nephew Percy and the Americans who keep hanging around. And of course, this is where Sennia joins the family. So yeah, lots of drama, a good touch of heartache, but lots of fun, too. Recommended.
By Black Chicken Studios
My rating: 4 of 5
1930, New York City: Prohibition is in effect, and the Great Depression is making itself known across the country, but for wealthy heiress Scheherazade Keating (Sadie to her friends), other things are much more immediately important. Having just graduated valedictorian of her high school class, Sadie is ready to make her mark, embarking on a whirlwind college degree in archaeology that includes on-site work at a variety of digs around the world. Incidentally, she’s following in the footsteps of her parents, a pair of famous (now missing) archaeologists . . . . She’s also following a trail of clues that may (she hopes) lead to more information about what’s happened to her parents. And she’s not afraid to break a few rules of society if that’s what it takes.
How to describe Scheherazade . . . it’s honestly a pretty unique experience, although there are similarities to a lot of other stories and games in certain aspects. It definitely plays like a visual novel–nice backgrounds, music, character pics, text describing what’s happening, and choices for the player to make that influence how the story progresses. You could, I suppose, even compare it to an otome visual novel in some senses; there are certainly several romance paths that can be pursued, if desired. But it’s entirely possible to play with purely platonic relationships as well. I actually loved how much good friendships were a part of the story. Mechanically, the game is also almost a princess-maker sort of game in that you have to choose how to spend your time, different choices build different skills, and your skills influence how certain challenges resolve. There’s actually a good bit of challenge to the game mechanics if you really want to play to meet certain goals; however, there’s also an easy mode that basically lets you focus on the story. And Sadie’s story is pretty interesting in a pulp novel sort of way. She’s a very strong character, and an amusing one to read–even if her ridiculous wealth tends to make you forget how bad life is in the world at large for a lot of people. But then, she’s more ridiculous than even her wealth, getting caught up in chases, digging in the dirt, getting into arguments, and suchlike. And there are actually a lot of interactions with people of a variety of stations in life–lots of interesting relationships to build. On the whole, I really enjoyed playing Scheherazade and found it to be an interesting slice of an era as well as an exciting romp around the world and a fun exposition of a fascinating character.
Author: Richard Peck
My rating: 4 of 5
Blossom Culp, vol. 4
The year is 1914, and Blossom and Alexander are in their freshman year of high school. Things are beginning to change–like the popular girls’ crushing on Alexander, his newfound obsession with getting into the elite high-school fraternity, or the new suffragette history teacher who’s bent on educating the freshmen about ancient Egypt. Some things never change though–like Blossom’s spunkiness, Alexander’s complete disavowal of his ability to interact with spirits, and Blossom’s mother’s sticky fingers. So when an ancient Egyptian relic turns up in Blossom’s mother’s pocket, naturally Blossom gets interested. And when the ghost (ka, whatever) of an ancient Egyptian princess demands Blossom’s help, well, of course she’s got to get Alexander involved, though she’ll have a time and a half dragging him away from the miseries of his fraternity initiation. Well, while she’s at it, she might as well make the initiation a bit more interesting, too. . . .
Richard Peck’s books are superb, and I think the ones set in Illinois and thereabouts around the turn of the century are some of the best. He has such a feel for the atmosphere of the time, making it alive rather than stuffy and historical. Plus, these are some of the most absurdly funny books I’ve ever read. Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death is all of that and more. Blossom has got to be one of the most amusing and lovable characters ever–while being someone who’d probably drive me nuts if I actually met her. Scruffy, saucy, and smart as can be–that’s Blossom. In this particular story, seeing her and Alexander growing up from children into young adults is really interesting and funny and kind of cute as well. The inclusion of spirits and historical (for Blossom as well as for the reader) mystery is classic for this series, but bringing in an Egyptian princess is something else. It works though, oddly enough. There’s enough historical detail to make it credible without feeling forced. And the combination of eerie mystery and absurd humor is perfect. For any readers upper elementary and older who enjoy a humorous historical story, Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death is definitely recommended whether you’ve read the other books in the series or not.
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody, vol. 12
My rating: 4.5 of 5
The year is 1914, and the tension surrounding the first World War is casting a pall over even the Emersons’ archaeological fervor. David has been imprisoned somewhere as a potential troublemaker, Ramses is the scorn of European society in Egypt for his pacifist views, Nefret seems to be drowning her sorrows in flirtation. Meanwhile, Turkish troops approach the Suez Canal, and it seems all Amelia and Emerson can do is watch and work half-heartedly on their unpromising wadi. Or at least, so it seems until they discover that Ramses and David are actually both in Egypt doing extremely dangerous undercover work for the British government. Of course, they can’t allow the two to face all that danger alone, so they immediately pitch in to help–as if Amelia could resist such a temptation!
Elizabeth Peters’ historical mysteries are consistently well-written, exciting, and full of character. Such was the case with He Shall Thunder in the Sky. It was really interesting in this volume to see a side of WWI history I’d never really gotten before–apparently there was a good bit more action away from Europe that I had known. And of course, Amelia and her family make any story more amusing with their absurd, larger-than-life characters and their bent for getting into any trouble that might happen to be around (or for manufacturing it if the situation demands). I really liked that, in this volume, Ramses and the other children are adults in their own right–they’re such good characters that it’s quite enjoyable to read the sections from their perspectives as a complement to Amelia’s own story. Plus the whole love story part of this volume is really sweet, even if you don’t much get that impression until near the end of the book. He Shall Thunder in the Sky is a fantastic blend of history, romance, archaeology, and espionage that’s truly a delight to read; highly recommended for anyone who enjoys historical mysteries.
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody Mysteries, volume 14
My rating: 4.5 of 5
The year is 1917, and the war is beginning to make travel extremely difficult. Not that that’s about to keep Amelia and her brood out of Egypt. Defying any danger with a stiff upper lip, the Emersons make their way from England back to their archaeological digs near Luxor, only to find that local tomb robbers have discovered a previously-unknown tomb . . . one they suspect might be royal. Of course, the family deems it their duty to find this tomb and protect it before the robbers completely clear its contents. Meanwhile, the family is kept busy on other fronts keeping Ramses away from the War Office and their attempts to bully/persuade him into doing more secret service work behind enemy lines. Amelia’s certainly got her hands full–and couldn’t be happier!
As with all of Peters’ Amelia Peabody books, The Golden One is a delightful admixture of mystery thriller, archaeological adventure, and historical romance of the best sort. Her portrayal of the setting is detailed and skillful without being burdensome–you get what you need to appreciate the setting, but she doesn’t spend pages on unnecessary description. The balance of the historical setting–the war and such–against the Emersons’ personal lives and interests is also excellently done, suiting the largely first-person style of the narrative. I also enjoyed in this volume having the contrast between Amelia’s own first-person voice–very Victorian, feministic, and full of personal witticisms–and the extracts from “Manuscript H” which are told in third-person from Ramses’ and Nefret’s perspective. The generation gap is clearly evident, and the contrasting perspectives are easily distinguishable and provide additional helpful information about what’s happening at any given time. Also interesting about this particular volume is the duality of the plot: one thread focusing on Ramses’ mission into the Turkish lines as a spy of sorts, sandwiched between two other sections focusing on the Emersons’ archaeological work and attempts to find the new tomb. It’s a bit unusual for these stories, but it works quite well. All in all, I think The Golden One is an excellent archaeological mystery for anyone even remotely interested in that genre, as well as for anyone just wanting an exciting and engaging story. Also of note, as this is the fourteenth volume of the series, it definitely includes numerous spoilers for previous volumes, but if you don’t care about that, there’s certainly enough background in the book itself to read it independently without needing to read the others first.
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Professor Emerson makes a habit of deriding his wife, Amelia Peabody Emerson, for her taste in literature–particularly thrillers like those of H. Rider Haggard. Little could he know how like one of those novels his own family’s life will become for a while as they find themselves called away from their archaeological dig in the upper Nile area of Nubia. . . . Called by no less than a note from a friend of his who disappeared with his young wife into the desert nearly 15 years before. Fortune seems to despise the Emersons as they travel west toward the rumored hidden civilization this friend had been seeking–their workers desert them, their camels die off as if poisoned, and even their water supply eventually runs out. But still, they press on into the adventure with the indomitable spirit (and stubborn pigheadedness) that characterizes Amelia, the Professor, and Ramses equally.
The Last Camel Died at Noon might just be my favorite of Peters’ Amelia Peabody stories; if not, it’s definitely up there. While all of these stories are adventure/mystery/thrillers of a sort (and quite an excellent example of such), this particular volume is very intentionally modeled after Haggard’s classic stories of adventure. Thus, it has a slightly different feel, while still maintaining the personalities of the characters perfectly–I really enjoy the “lost civilization” sort of setting, and Amelia’s reactions to it. The combination of confirmed history (like the opening of Nubia behind the army’s advance) with something more legendary is interesting, as is the author’s use of the lost city to show what ancient Egyptian/Meroitic life might have been like. The story’s also full of plots, evil rulers, mysterious maidens, and other classic adventure story elements. And I must confess, one of my top reasons for preferring this volume is that Ramses is old enough to really be involved (quite cleverly) and to be adorably smitten; plus it’s Nefret’s intro volume (she’s probably my second favorite character in the series right after Ramses). I think that for anyone who enjoys an exciting story but who demands quality writing, The Last Camel Died at Noon is an excellent choice.