The Heretical Power Couple

Title: Egypt’s Golden Couple: When Akhenaten and Nefertiti Were Gods on Earth
Authors: John Darnell & Colleen Darnell
Genre: History
Pages: 384
Rating: 4 of 5
(Thank you to the authors and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of the review – Publication date: 11/1/22).

If you know only one Egyptian Pharaoh, it’s probably “King Tut” (thanks either to the treasures of his fabulous un-plundered tomb or the musical stylings of Steve Martin). This book offers an opportunity to meet his father, the enigmatic “heretic king” Akhenaten as well as Akhenaten’s principal wife, Nefertiti. The book opens with two radically different portraits of Akhenaten: enlightened sun-worshiping monotheist vs. incompetent, nation-destroying pedophile. The authors attempt to sift through these sorts of dramatic claims and produce a believable portrait of this couple, grounded in primary sources.

One big thing that I took away from this book is just how much of Egyptology is painstaking comparison that fuels semi-speculative interpretation of fragmentary, ambiguous writing/art. The portrait that emerges from the authors’ research and interpretation seems balanced and genuinely based on evidence rather than driven by an agenda to present a specific portrait.

As far as writing style, I could have done without the “TV docudrama” style chapter intros and random insertions of “now let us describe one of our field expeditions,” but those may add interest for some people. Overall, Akhenaten’s odd artwork and henotheistic religious reforms are a fascinating part of Egyptian history, and this is a nice balanced take on them. Highly recommended for those interested in Egyptology!

Stick with Dracula

50048113Title: The Beetle
Author: Richard Marsh
Genre: Victorian Era Horror
Pages: 335
Rating: 2 of 5

The Beetle was published the same year as Dracula and originally outsold it. Having read it, I’m not surprised that Stoker’s masterpiece has endured while this tale of an ambiguously-gendered Egyptian were-beetle seeking revenge on a British MP fell by the wayside.

The book starts out strong with some truly creepy moments involving human misery and supernatural compulsion. Unfortunately, the story became increasingly less interesting as we detour into a Victorian love triangle (or possibly pentagon) complete with a disapproving parent and wealthy spinster. One of our narrators at this point is a mad scientist who talks a bit like Bertie Wooster but whose mad science ends up playing no significant part in the plot (such a waste!).

The author never managed to recover the creepiness of the first quarter of the book. Once the supernatural stuff really picks up again, there’s the usual product-of-its-era casual xenophobia, sexism, etc., an uninspired telegraphing/dashing around trying to find the damsel in distress chase sequence, and a ridiculously abrupt ending.

I was ready to give this 3 stars as passable product-of-its-era Gothic horror if the author could land the ending, but it was so bad that it brought down the entire book. It feels like he couldn’t decide how to end it, got bored with writing, and covered it all up with a couple dei ex machina and a liberal dose of “it was too horrible for words.” Weird/horror stories don’t need to give the reader all the answers, but this ending was a complete cop out. Stick with Dracula!