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?