Review: Out of the Black Land, Kerry Greenwood
Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt is peaceful and prosperous under the dual rule of the Pharaohs Amenhotep III and IV, until the younger Pharaoh begins to dream new and terrifying dreams.
Ptah-hotep, a young peasant boy studying to be a scribe, wants to live a simple life in a Nile hut with his lover Kheperren and their dog Wolf. But Amenhotep IV appoints him as Great Royal Scribe. Surrounded by bitterly envious rivals and enemies, how long will Ptah-hotep survive?
The child-princess Mutnodjme sees her beautiful sister Nefertiti married off to the impotent young Amenhotep. But Nefertiti must bear royal children, so the ladies of the court devise a shocking plan.
Kheperren, meanwhile, serves as scribe to the daring teenage General Horemheb. But while the Pharaoh’s shrinking army guards the Land of the Nile from enemies on every border, a far greater menace impends.
For, not content with his own devotion to one god alone, the newly-renamed Akhnaten plans to suppress the worship of all other gods in the Black Land.
His horrified court soon realise that the Pharaoh is not merely deformed, but irretrievably mad; and that the biggest danger to the Empire is in the royal palace itself.
I once said that I would read anything Kerry Greenwood wrote – including her shopping list, that is how good a writer I think she is. She can make the simplest thing seem interesting, build a story around it. When offered to send me a copy of Kerry Greenwood‘s new book, the first book from new publisher Clan Destine Press, I was thrilled. Then I learnt that Out of the Black Land was not going to be a mystery – neither Phryne Fisher nor Corinna Chapman as the stars, this was a work of historical fiction set in ancient Egypt. I have to say, I was surprised, but I remembered my shopping list comment. When the book arrived, I immediately settled down for a tale of Pharaohs and scribes, of gods with clay feet and secret romances. This is no shopping list, this was proof of what a truly brilliant writer Kerry Greenwood is.
First, I’d like to address the issue of historical research – ancient Egypt is not the easiest period to write about. How do you go back thousands of years in time and capture the essence of day to day life? Well, apparently you read a lot. Ms. Greenwood researched and researched and only when she found contradicting claims did she fill in the blanks herself. At the end of the book you will find the bibliography for Out of the Black Land including all the questions Ms. Greenwood had, the difficulties she encountered, and my favorite – what really happened to the characters. For this book, Ms. Greenwood really went out of her comfort zone, and I can only respect her more for it.
Out of the Black Land takes place during the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt where Amenhotep the III rules Egypt and is respected throughout the land for his great knowledge but Amenhotep is getting old, and soon his son will take over, a son with new ideas and religious fervor. We read the story through the voices of two people – Ptah-hotep the scribe and Mutnodjme a royal princess, with the story switching between the two every chapter or so. I usually don’t like when authors do this because it can leave the reader feeling confused and causes the story to seem stunted. In Out of the Black Land I really enjoyed getting the different viewpoints, it was a way to allow the reader to see two very different sides to life in ancient Egypt.
I don’t want to ruin the story, I believe the blurb at the beginning tells you more than enough. I’ll just add that this story is a wonderful historical saga that never felt too heavy or overburdened with detail. Kerry Greenwood doesn’t give you pages and pages of explanations about life in ancient Egypt – she shows you life in ancient Egypt through the story. It was an incredible journey that had me checking my bookshelves for any books on ancient Egypt as soon as I finished.
The story itself has drama, romance, mystery and everything you could ever dream of having in a book. There wasn’t a dull moment in sight and the ending was very satisfying. The characters were wonderfully written, as I have come to expect from Ms. Greenwood and this time there is the added bonus of learning about a culture that is so very different from that of the modern western world. A warning to those who are interested: Ancient Egypt had some interesting traditions when it came to sex so, you need an open mind when reading this book. As usual with books I enjoy, I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to know more, to stay with the protagonists for just a few extra chapters. Isn’t that the mark of a truly excellent read?
The long and short of it is – Out of the Black Land was wonderful and unique and Ms. Greenwood, if you ever decide to publish that shopping list, I would love to read it.
This book was given to Noa by Clan Destine Press
For more about Out of the Black Land visit Clan Destine Press’ Website