Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Reading out of loyalty to a favorite author

Guardian of the Horizon, Elizabeth Peters

Elizabeth Peters was the first author whose books I bought regularly in hardcover, as they came out.  It seemed like a marker of adulthood, to pay more than $20 for a book, rather than waiting for a copy at the library or haunting used-book stores.  And I faithfully bought "the new Amelia" each year.  Actually, a friend and I bought them for each other - the friend who introduced me to her books in the first place.  So in 2004, when Guardian of the Horizon came out, I drove over to Murder by the Book for a lovely first edition, signed by the author.  However, for the first time, and deliberately, I set this book aside.  I wanted to buy it to support Ms. Peters, but I was reluctant to read it.  It's been on the TBR shelves ever since.

I had two concerns about the book.  For those who haven't read the series, spoilers will follow.

First, it is a "gap" story, written to retroactively fill in the missing years in the Emerson family history.  Set in 1907-1908, it falls smack in the middle of what I call the "Ramses and Nefret" drama, when Ramses is agonizingly in love with Nefret, who is completely oblivious.  I think Ramses is a wonderfully romantic hero, but paradoxically I get so very, very tired of his romantic agony.  He is lucky to have David willing to listen to him go on about it.  Second, in this book the Emersons return to the "Lost Oasis," also known as "The City of the Holy Mountain."  There, like tomb paintings come to life, the world of ancient Egypt survives in a hilltop community deep in the Sudan, frozen in time since its ancestors fled south.  The Emersons first visited this world in The Last Camel Died at Noon, which is an explicit homage to H. Rider Haggard's stories.  It's never been my favorite in the series, and I wasn't anxious to revisit the place.

Last week I learned that Elizabeth Peters left the manuscript for a final Amelia book when she died.  It will be published in 2016, as The Painted Queen.  I have mixed emotions about that, as I do with Terry Pratchett's posthumous Tiffany Aching book.  But I enjoyed the last late Amelia book that I read, A River in the Sky, more than I expected, which gives me hope.  Thinking about the new book finally motivated me to read this one, as did my project to read from the back end of my TBR list (the books that have been on it the longest).

I did not love this book, though there were things I enjoyed.  It opens with the Emersons at their English home in Kent, somewhat at loose ends.  Emerson has gotten them banned from excavating in the Valley of the Kings, after picking a fight with Theodore Davis, the American who holds the excavating rights there.  They are all increasingly bored and frustrated when a young man arrives, bringing a message from Tarek, the ruler of the City, asking them to come to his aid.  Agreeing to help means a lot of work, and also a lot of plotting, to protect the secret of the City.  This part was fun, with all the familiar work of organization and travel to Egypt, meeting familiar faces along the way.  They included Sethos, the "Master Criminal," one of my favorite supporting characters.  I think I enjoyed the group's travel in Egypt more, having read Toby Wilkerson's wonderful book about the Nile earlier this year.

Once they all arrived in the City, though, my interest quickly waned.  In the first story, The Last Camel, there is an energy in discovering the city, Egypt's past brought to life, but this time it felt a bit repetitive.  The story revolves around a usurper to the throne, and his psychopathic son, as well as a plot to force Nefret back into her role as the High Priestess of Isis.  I know I was supposed to root for Tarek, but I got tired of the plotting, and all the rushing around, and particularly of the residents' tendency to worship the Emersons as "holy ones."  I love their sang-froid and overwhelming self-confidence, not to mention their supposed magical powers, but turning them into little gods was too much for me.  One of the plotters is a fellow Briton, who followed rumors of their earlier adventures to find the Lost City.  At the end of the book, he is left there as a "British agent" - appointed presumably by the Emersons - to protect the city against "the next invaders," which was also too much for me.  I would like to think that Elizabeth Peters had her tongue firmly in her cheek when she came up with that idea, but it didn't read that way to me.  I feel queasy over the rifles that the Emersons bring with them to the city, and presumably leave behind, to fuel the next civil war (while the ammunition lasts).

I complained above about Ramses' romantic wallowing, so it's inconsistent to complain about what happens in this book, but I'm going to do it anyway.  Along the way the Emersons pick up a young Egyptian woman, Daria, who is the companion of a Great White Hunter type.  She tries to seduce Ramses one night, he nobly resists.  She ends up traveling to the City with them, where she and Ramses do fall into bed - and improbably, into love.  He is actually thinking of marrying her by the end, wondering how to present his parents with a courtesan as a daughter-in-law, before she decides to stay in the City and marry Tarek  (she does sob bitterly over this decision).  The one-night stand made sense, but I just couldn't buy a love affair, even if Ramses hadn't spent so much time mooning over his Grand Passion for Nefret.  I can't remember if there are any references to this affair in the later books (paradoxically written earlier).  Maybe Elizabeth Peters just wanted a break from the Ramses/Nefret drama.

I gave this book three stars on LibraryThing, mostly out of loyalty to Elizabeth Peters (a one- or two-star book goes to the library sale).  Of her books, this only leaves The Night of the Four Hundred Rabbits on the TBR shelves.

Do you buy books out of loyalty to favorite authors?  Have you found some of them disappointing?

14 comments:

  1. Yes, totally a 'loyalty' reader, and also too sympathetic, I fear, to the school of 'well, I can't really expect all 10/15/20+ sequels to be of the same quality'. There's something about hitting a less good one that is so dispiriting though! (And in aside: you've reminded me how much the drawn-out Nefret/Ramses thing annoyed me so much!).

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    1. I've lost patience with some series lately, it feels like the authors are losing interest or inspiration. Maybe I'll switch to library copies for those. But I'll still be in line for this last Amelia book.

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  2. THE PAINTED QUEEN is probably set in the 1911-12 season -- between FALCON AT THE PORTAL and HE SHALL THUNDER IN THE SKY. I am a devotee of the series and especially of the original Quartet, but 1911-12 seemed like the worst possible place in the series to set another "gap" book, especially as the Quartet from SEEING A LARGE CAT to THUNDER was said to have been -- and certainly read as if was -- plotted as one big project.

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    1. It does seem like there are other gaps that she could have filled. I was always hoping for one more Jacqueline Kirby book, though I kept hearing that her publishers only wanted Amelia.

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    2. Amelia sold better than any other series, so that would be what the publisher would offer most for.

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    3. She pretty much gave up writing as Barbara Michaels as well, though she did slip in that last Vicki & John book that so many fans were hoping for.

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  3. I have fond memories of Elizabeth Peters: Crocodile in the Sandbank was one of my first audiobooks. I heard it while recuperating from eye surgery and it really helped to pass the time. For some reason, I never felt the need to go further into the story - weird!

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    1. Alex, have you read any of her other books, outside of the Amelia series? I am particularly fond of Jacqueline Kirby, and I also enjoy the books written as Barbara Michaels.

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  4. I cherish Elizabeth Peters, but I do pretend that Guardian of the Horizon never happened. I hate everything that happens with Ramses, I can't be bothered with him moping over Nefret, and I didn't love the setting of The Last Camel Died at Noon enough to want to revisit it. However, I do think this is the only one of the Amelia Peabody books I ever disliked, which for a series that went on as long as this one did is pretty good. And I thought River in the Sky was excellent, and I'm excited for The Painted Queen.

    (I don't remember the two that came after Children of the Storm, actually. Maybe they were garbage. At some point I'll be due for a big Amelia Peabody reread.)

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    1. We had eerily similar reactions both to this one and The Last Camel! I enjoyed The Serpent on the Crown & Tomb of the Golden Bird - except for the annoying grandchildren, but I could not stand the lisping Ramses either. I am thinking that I may re-read Amelia before The Painted Queen comes out.

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  5. There are definitely authors I have bought and read out of loyalty. Robin McKinley is perhaps the strongest example -- I adored her early books but I find the latest ones unreadable. I used to buy them anyway but I have to stop now.

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    1. I was buying the last Elizabeth Peters books in paperback, as a compromise - to support her, but not spend as much on books I wasn't sure I wanted to read. I'm finding it easier these days to let go of series that no longer interest me.

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  6. Now an official release date for THE PAINTED QUEEN, both hardcover and Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Painted-Queen-Novel-Elizabeth-Peters/dp/0062083511/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1484545221&sr=8-1&keywords=the+painted+queen

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  7. That is good news, Ann! I will be waiting for my copy.

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Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!