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TUTANKHAMEN, THE BOOK OF SHADOWS
By Nick Drake
Harper, 2010 ($24.99)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Most people around the world are familiar with the story of Howard Carter's discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb in the 1920's, filled with the priceless treasures that accompanied the boy king into the afterworld. Many have seen some of those treasures in museums, and his golden death mask is one of the most recognizable artifacts ever found. Far fewer know about the young man himself, who his family was, how he lived, what he accomplished in his short reign, and how he died. Drake has created a meticulously researched and fascinating novel that seeks to answer these questions. His protagonist, Rahotep, was introduced in the first book in the series, Nefertiti. He is a member of the Thebes Medjay, the equivalent of a police force, and is known as a seeker of mysteries. He lives a modest but happy life with his wife, three teenage daughters, an infant son, and Toth, his baboon companion.
Tutankhamun is the son of the disgraced King Akhenaten, who tried to establish a new religion based on one god, the sun. The Egyptian priests, who were very fond of their multitude of gods and goddesses, quickly put a stop to that nonsense, destroying the new city he founded and trying to eradicate his memory. His mother was Kiya, Akhenanten's first wife. Tut became king when he was nine, and he married his half-sister Ankhesenamun, daughter of Akhenaten and the fabled beauty Queen Nefertiti. The country has been run by his regent, Al, a greedy and cruel man who has no plans to turn over the reins of power to the royal couple any time soon. Tut has now reached the age of majority and announces that he and his queen plan to rule without Al's help or interference. General Horemheb, who controls most of the country's military troops as well as the opium smuggling business, has high ambitions, and the country is being torn into a three-way power struggle.
Rahotep seeks neither fame nor fortune. As a friend of the former king, he tries to keep a low profile, but when he is summoned to the palace by the young queen, he must obey, even though he knows trouble will follow. Because of his skill in solving mysteries, he has been asked to investigate a series of gruesome, brutal murders, but a royal summons gets first priority. The call comes at night, and there is an air of secrecy as he enters the palace and is taken to the royal chamber. Queen Ankhesenamun tells him that her mother had told her that if she was ever in danger, she should call for him and he would come. Someone has been sending her nasty "gifts," and it appears to be an inside job. Because of the increasing tension over who will rule the country, she fears for her life and that of her husband and doesn't know who she can trust. Rahotep feels that he owes it to his old friend Akhenaten to protect his children and do his best to see to it that they ascend to the thrones that are rightfully theirs.
As Rahotep digs deeper into this case and the murders in the city, he realizes he can't be sure that even his own friends can be trusted. Powerful people don't want him to succeed, and it brings not only the royal couple, but his whole family into danger.
Drake brings all the color and chaos of ancient Egypt to life in an enjoyable and thought-provoking way. He has seamlessly interwoven historical facts with fictional details of how things might have happened. I highly recommend this series.
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