Eater of Souls
By Lynda S. Robinson
Ballantine Books, 1997, 276 pp (paperback)
Reviewed by J. Ashley (9/98)
Eater of Souls is the fourth book of this series that involves Lord Meren, the Eyes and Ears of Pharaoh (in this case the pharaoh is the 14-year-old Tutankhamun).
The story opens with Meren concerned that his continuing investigation into the murder Nefertiti and later desecration of her tomb will endanger his family of three daughters plus adopted son Kysen. But unknown to him, another killer prowls the city of Memphis, one known as Eater of Souls, the goddess who devours the bodies of those whose hearts have been weighed on the scale of justice against the feather of truth and have been found wanting. Only this time, Eater of Souls is not waiting for death; she murders her victims, tears out their hearts, and leaves a white feather in its place.
Meren must investigate the bizarre and seemingly unrelated deaths at the same time he must entertain a provincial lord, Rashep, and placate an irritable Hittite emissary, Mugallu, bent on provoking Tutankhamun into war. In addition, Meren's daughter, Isis, has decided she has consuming interest in the shallow Rashep, much to Meren's dismay. But he finds assistance in his son, Kysen, who involves himself in both investigations and proves himself to be a thoughtful and resourceful sleuth.
This is the first book I've read of this series, but it prompted me to find the others and add them to my stack. Ancient Egypt is presented through the story and the characters (the author avoids lecturing), revealing a culture that is surprisingly identifiable with modern Western culture. Robinson portrays a city of practical, resourceful, cosmopolitan people with a foreign contingent of Babylonians, Greeks, and Asians. The police system, with its efficiencies and drawbacks is shown, as is a glimpse of organized crime in the ancient world.
I like the way Robinson draws her characters. Too many historical novels have the main "enlightened" characters scoffing at the belief systems of the culture, as if implying that such beliefs are beneath truly intelligent people. But Meren embraces and is part of his culture, and if he believes mortals cause most of the trouble he must deal with, he feels no compulsion to avoid prayer and amulets of protection. Likewise pharaoh is shown to be both "living god" and a young man annoyed because his advisors won't let him fight in raids.
The only disappointment with this book was it's conclusion. I thought it too "easy." However, there is still much left ambiguous, which satisfied my desire for complications. I am looking forward to reading the first three of the series: Murder in the Place of Anubis, Murder at the God's Gate, and Murder at the Feast of Rejoicing, as well as the newly released Drinker of Blood.
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