Book Log #73: Lord of the Silent, by Elizabeth Peters

Lord of the Silent (An Amelia Peabody Mystery, #13)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After the mighty awesomeness that was He Shall Thunder in the Sky, any book Elizabeth Peters might write would have its work cut out for it. Thunder is so clear a culmination of the Ramses/Nefret love story that in many ways it serves as an admirable stopping point for the series. It would be somewhat unfair to Lord of the Silent and its immediately following book, Children of the Storm, to call them afterthoughts. But Silent definitely takes the Emerson saga into a new phase, one that loses something of the charm of many of the previous books while at the same time still having charm of its own to offer.

Like many of the later Amelia Peabody books, this one brings back characters we’ve seen before. This time around we got Margaret Minton, last seen in Book Five, Deeds of the Disturber, annoying the devil out of Kevin O’Connell. She is of course much older at this point, though in some ways not particularly more mature–because her entire plot arc involves her reacting to a surprise encounter with none other than Sethos himself. This being a series with a long tradition of pairing off side characters along with the main action, it’ll probably surprise no new readers to this series that at least on the part of Miss Minton, the encounter proved quite romantic. Nor will anyone who read Thunder be surprised that this book, in playing out Sethos’ reaction to the woman chasing him, continues the whole concept of reforming the erstwhile Master Criminal. It’s inevitable, really, given what Margaret’s previous appearance in the series had established about her resemblance to Amelia–and, of course, Sethos’ own attachment to same. It’s a nice touch on Peters’ part. (Though at the same time, I must admit to being vaguely disappointed, since he’s one of the liveliest characters in the entire cast, and the idea of reforming him is almost ridiculous. As Sethos himself snarkily observes!)

Meanwhile, fans of Ramses may find it almost disappointing that now that he’s won Nefret, the resolution of that romantic tension fundamentally changes the position of those two characters in the overall framework of the series. There’s good stuff here with the British government being desperate to pull Ramses back into intelligence work, and Ramses adamantly refusing with his family’s staunch support. Nor can I really speak against the value of exploring how the newly married younger Emersons’ relationship develops, given that similar exploration between Amelia and Emerson has of course defined the heart of this entire series. But Ramses is not his father, no matter how kindly the advice of his parents in marital matters might be meant, and so some readers may find that the passages where Ramses and Nefret explore their new married state drag a bit in comparison to the rest of the book.

There’s some fun here as well exploring the character of young Sennia, and the introduction of Jumana and her brother Jamil expands the cast a bit, providing good contrast between a young woman who wants to prove herself and her reprobate, lazy brother. And there’s still enough substance to Peters’ writing here that unlike later novels in the series, this one’s still a pretty solid read. Three stars.

Book Log #72: He Shall Thunder in the Sky, by Elizabeth Peters

He Shall Thunder in the Sky (An Amelia Peabody Mystery, #12)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now we are TALKING.

He Shall Thunder in the Sky is perhaps my absolute favorite of the entire Amelia Peabody series–and as I’ve indicated in my reviews of several of the earlier books, it’s got some very strong contenders for my affections. It won’t have nearly as much meaning if you don’t read the series through from the beginning, but for readers who do, there is a great deal of reward to be had. There’s not only the culmination of the love story of Ramses and Nefret, there’s also the culmination of Ramses as a mature character and the equal of his parents, and a Big Reveal about the background of Sethos, the Master Criminal.

The book’s not a hundred percent perfect; I’ve got logistical quibbles with the Sethos part of the arc, for example. Odious cousin Percy, while credibly showing his true odious colors, is nonetheless not nearly as effective a villain as he should have been. Plus, I have a few “wait, what?” moments in regards to how Thunder ties back in with events in The Falcon at the Portal–specifically in revealing certain activities of Ramses’ and Nefret’s. I can’t say too much about that part since I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but suffice to say that the details in question seemed a touch too melodramatic for even the Amelia Peabodies, which are at their height gems of melodrama! Ditto for the Big Reveal about Sethos.

But. I wave aside what quibbles I have with the story on the grounds of the sheer awesomeness that is Ramses in this book. He’s making a big noisy name for himself in Cairo as an avowed pacifist, refusing to participate in the ongoing bloody conflicts of World War I, and it’s getting him blackballed by everyone in Cairo society. It’s all a front, of course–because if you’ve been following the series up to this point, you know that Ramses has a stellar talent for disguise. So does the British government by this point in the series, and they’re making use of Ramses by having him do intelligence work. David’s in on it too, as the two friends put their lives on the line infiltrating a local cell of Egyptian nationalists so that Ramses can impersonate their leader. Not even his own parents know what’s going on, and once they realize the danger their son is putting himself in, they must do everything in their power to assist him. And to keep Nefret from finding out.

This being an Amelia Peabody, there is of course the obligatory preternaturally intelligent cat. This time around it’s Seshat, who’s a rival for her ancestress Bastet in how devoted she is to Ramses; he in turn is finally willing to acknowledge the potential awesomeness of other cats in the world. And of course we have the point of view shifting back and forth between Amelia and Ramses, which (aside from one weird choice of scene order at an early critical juncture) is wonderful stuff. Amelia’s relationship with her adult son is much different than her relationship with him as a boy, and one tender scene in particular they have is particularly aww-inducing.

Action scenes with Ramses here are among Peters’ most tense in any of her work, particularly at the end of the story. And, melodrama aside, the big climactic rescue scene in Thunder stands out for me as one of the most memorable of any of her books.

All in all, five stars.

Book Log #71: The Falcon at the Portal, by Elizabeth Peters

The Falcon at the Portal (Amelia Peabody Series #11)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first time I read through The Falcon at the Portal, book #11 of the Amelia Peabodies, I pretty much wanted to smack Nefret upside the head for what she pulls partway through the book. I am sorry to say that my impression on my recent re-read of her actions in this story have not much improved. Now that I am a writer myself and I’ve had a lot of time to get a lot more reading in besides, I better appreciate that a character I otherwise admire can do something deeply stupid. That said? What Nefret does in this book is still deeply stupid.

But let me back up. This is the third book involved in the overall four-book arc of the love story of Ramses and Nefret, a mini-arc in the overall stretch of the series. (I don’t count Guardian of the Horizon and A River in the Sky in this arc since they were inserted later, and don’t bring anything new to this particular storyline that the original four books don’t already establish.) We’ve jumped ahead a few more years since the events of The Ape Who Guards the Balance, and we start things off with a threat to the shiny new marriage of David and Lia: somebody is selling forgeries to antiquities dealers, and throwing around strong hints that they are David’s own creations. Very, very aware that David has not fallen back into the habits of his youth, Ramses and Nefret are determined to investigate even as the family prepares for their next season in Egypt.

Meanwhile, Ramses’ odious cousin Percy is making a massive nuisance of himself. He’s written a book based on what he claims are his own recent adventures in Egypt now that he’s joined the service–only problem is, he’s taking all kinds of dramatic liberties with the tale of how Ramses actually rescued him from being held hostage. Most of the family is suitably aghast at Percy’s distinctly purple prose, but only Ramses knows the truth of the hostage incident, and he isn’t telling. Not even Percy realizes what happened, and once he finds out, this sets off what’s actually a quite delicious little bit of revenge until Nefret wigs right out about it.

Feh. Aside from the Nefret bits this is a decent enough story, and for continuity’s sake one does want to read it, if nothing else to provide suitable context for the awesomeness that is to follow in He Shall Thunder in the Sky. My advice though is to read that one as soon as possible after this one. For this one, three stars.

Book Log #70: A River in the Sky, by Elizabeth Peters

A River in the Sky (Amelia Peabody Series #19)

The most recent of the long-running Amelia Peabody series, A River in the Sky, is also unfortunately thus far the weakest for me in the series to date. Like Guardian of the Horizon, it’s one of the “lost journals” of the Emerson saga, going back and filling in gaps of time between previously written books. In this particular case, this one falls after Guardian of the Horizon and before The Falcon at the Portal. Unlike Guardian of the Horizon, however, it doesn’t really have much substance to it. Amelia, Emerson, and the rest of the main cast seem like cursory versions of themselves, and Peters’ writing here has the same issue that I’ve noticed in other recent books (the last few of this series, as well as Book Six of the Vicky Bliss books): to wit, her historical vivacity and spark just are not there.

I really wanted to like this one, too. It does have going for it the fact that it’s set in Palestine, which is a first for a series that beforehand spent the majority of its time in Egypt, with periodic stories in England. There are also several good dramatic scenes where Ramses and David are on the run from the Bad Guys Du Jour, and the obligatory set of colorful side characters. But by and large the Emersons as a group are in reactionary mode rather than really being active all throughout this plot, and there isn’t even much of an archaeological subplot going on to provide interest in the meantime, either.

Overall, I’m sad to react to this one mostly with ‘meh’. I’m enough of an Amelia fan at this point that I’ll keep reading the series for the sake of being a completist, but for everybody else, this one is definitely skippable. Two stars.

Book Log #69: Guardian of the Horizon, by Elizabeth Peters

Guardian of the Horizon (An Amelia Peabody Mystery, #16)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

By publishing order, Guardian of the Horizon is book #16 of the Amelia Peabody series. Chronologically, however, it is book #11, falling in time not too long after The Ape Who Guards the Balance. It’s one of two (as of the writing of this review) books that fill in the gap of time between Balance and the book after it, The Falcon at the Portal. And, if you’re a fan of Book #6, The Last Camel Died at Noon, it’s vital to note that this is also a direct followup to that book as it revisits the lost oasis city where the Emersons first discovered and rescued Nefret Forth.

The young prince Merasen comes to England to bring the Emersons the news that Tarek, the ruler they helped put into power ten years before, is gravely ill and needs their help. Naturally Amelia, Emerson, Ramses, and Nefret agree that they must go–and are in equal agreement that David must not, for he has only just finally won the betrothal of Walter and Evelyn’s child Lia and they all believe it would be cruel to part him from her. And for all that they’d just as soon leave Nefret behind as well, Ramses and his parents must grudgingly admit that Nefret’s medical skill makes her essential on the journey.

That journey proves just as perilous as the one the Emersons undertook before. This time around the story has a darker overtone, as assault and murder and betrayal dog them all the way to the Lost Oasis. Nor does it help matters that a treasure hunter and a young woman who seems rather forcibly in his care cross their paths, for Ramses finds himself uncomfortably drawn to the girl.

And that’s where this book falls over somewhat for me. We’ve just spent two books, Seeing a Large Cat and The Ape Who Guards the Balance, establishing that Ramses has been carrying a growing devotion to Nefret and has pretty much ever since he set eyes on her as a lad. In this very Lost Oasis, for that matter. I won’t go into details here for fear of spoilers for those who haven’t read this book; instead I’ll simply say that the strength of Ramses’ reaction to her is totally out of left field to me as a reader. The ending scene that tries to smooth things over and remind you who Ramses is really destined for doesn’t help, either.

I should also mention that Nefret herself spends regretfully little time doing anything useful in this plot. She becomes a MacGuffin here rather than a fully participating character, and behaves generally out of character as well.

It’s a shame, really, because aside from these two factors the book’s still fairly solid. The Emersons walk right into a trap of political intrigue that follows nicely out of the original adventure in this setting, and at least when Ramses and Nefret aren’t being out of character, there’s decent tension to be had. On my second read through I did appreciate those parts of the story more, which let me add another star to my original rating. Still, though, this is one of the weaker installments of the series. Three stars.

Book Log #68: The Ape Who Guards the Balance, by Elizabeth Peters

The Ape Who Guards the Balance (An Amelia Peabody Mystery, #10)

The tenth Amelia Peabody novel, The Ape Who Guards the Balance, opens with one of my very favorite scenes in the entire series: Amelia barging out to participate in a suffragette rally in London, ready, willing, and even eager to get herself arrested for the cause of women’s rights. Never mind how she winds up having an inadvertant run-in with Sethos who’s planning to rob the very residence she and her fellow suffragettes are targeting for their protest; no, what really sells this whole sequence for me is the note-perfect reactions Emerson and Ramses and their butler Gargery have to the entire situation, up to and including Ramses coming along to lend his support, and Emerson and Gargery asserting their disbelief that any constable in the city is worthy of the task of arresting Amelia P. Emerson.

Really, it’s an excellent start to a very strong novel in the series overall. It’s not entirely perfect, mind you. There are stretches where even a diehard fan like me finds it a bit hard going. Stick with it though–and for the love of Amon-Ra, if you’re new to the series, do not start with this one. The death of a character much beloved of the Emersons takes place in this installment, and you really need to have been following the series from the beginning to really appreciate its impact on the family. Especially upon Amelia, since this incident affects her personally all throughout the subsequent books.

Ramses starts coming into his own for me as a fully adult character with this book, too. He’s had plenty of time to be a full-fledged character, sure, but only as of this book does he really start feeling like a grownup to me. And by ‘grownup’, I mean, ‘swoonable hero’. It helps a lot that as of here, Peters has a better handle on how she wants to present the “Manuscript H” sections of the story. This in turn gives Ramses a much more consistent voice, and goes a long way to establishing him as a romantic hero to rival his father. Four stars.

Book Log #67: Seeing a Large Cat, by Elizabeth Peters

Seeing a Large Cat

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ninth book of the Amelia Peabody series, Seeing a Large Cat, is a significant turning point in the overall saga of the Emerson family. It’s the first of the internal quartet of books that follows the arc of the love story between Ramses and Nefret, and it’s also the first where Elizabeth Peters starts including the points of view of both Ramses and Nefret in the narrative. Up until this point she’d already been using the schtick of a hypothetical “Editor” who’s organizing the overall collection of the personal papers of Amelia and her family; with Seeing a Large Cat, this gets a bit more obvious treatment as all the sections from Ramses’ POV are from a hypothetical “Manuscript H”, while Nefret’s letters are from “Letter Collection C”. This worked nicely for me as a conceit, overall.

As for the story itself, it jumps ahead a few years from the previous book, The Hippopotamus Pool. Ramses, David, and Nefret are now firmly into their late teens, and the relationship between the three is solidly in place. If you’ve followed the series up until this point this may be a bit jarring, as the barest beginnings of Ramses and David’s deep friendship are in the previous book, and there’s not much on-camera mileage establishing the affection between Ramses and Nefret either, or Nefret and David. But that said, it’s not too difficult a point to get around, nor is it essential to the current story. You basically need to know going in that yeah, the three young people have become quite close in the intervening years; that much is essential, as it’s the relations between these three characters that drive much of the events not only in the aforementioned quartet, but really through much of the rest of the series in general.

With Ramses joining his mother as a viewpoint character, the flavor of the books does take on more dimension, and I really like that. While Amelia continues in her florid first-person style, all of Ramses’ sections are from a more impersonal third-person style, and do a good job of conveying that as a writer, Ramses has a significantly different way with a word than his mother. Also, speaking as a fan of just about everything Elizabeth Peters ever wrote, this is pretty much the only time I can think of ever that she’s written significant chunks of a storyline from a male point of view, and that’s a nice change of pace for her.

Of course, it helps that Ramses is an entirely swoonworthy character. As of this particular book it’s played a little thick, since he’s in a strange transitory age where I don’t quite buy that he can quite pull off everything he does. (Which is quite irrational, given that he’s pulled off this kind of thing pretty much since Book 3, and I oddly buy some of it better when he’s a kid than I do when he’s a teenager. Later on when he’s got more experience and maturity, I buy it better as well.)

You may be asking, but what about the plot? There’s some nice callback here to the events of Book 4, since a couple of the characters from there, Donald and Enid, make another appearance. This is simultaneously fun and frustrating, since Donald’s part in this plot sets him up to be spectacularly gullible. (Enough that you wonder whether the man suffered sunstroke in Egypt in the time since Book 4, or something.) But that’s the B plot; the A plot involves a Colonel Bellingham and his spoiled daughter, and a body found in a mysterious tomb that turns out to be none other than the mummified corpse of Bellingham’s dead wife. How precisely the wife came to be in such a state is the mystery the Emersons must solve this time around, and it’s an engaging story indeed.

One more thing that added colorful character detail to this one for me was the changeover in the Emerson cats. The family cats are a long-running worldbuilding detail all over the series, and here, the death of the first, Bastet (a.k.a. “the cat Bastet”), and the attempt of her offspring Sekhmet to win over Ramses is worth several “aww” moments all over the story. ‘Cause yeah, really, this story IS all about Ramses. Even for the cats. Four stars.

Book Log #66: The Hippopotamus Pool, by Elizabeth Peters

The Hippopotamus Pool (An Amelia Peabody Mystery, #8)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Truth be told, it’d been so long since I’d read The Hippopotamus Pool, book 8 of the Amelia Peabodies, that I’d totally forgotten what it was about–and in particular, that it introduced the critical character of David Todros, grandson of Abdullah, the Emerson family’s reis. After recently re-reading it, I didn’t came away with much more than that either.

Which is not to say that things don’t happen in The Hippopotamus Pool, because they do. There is quite the upheaval in the underworld of Cairo following a Certain Event at the end of the previous book, and the Emersons must deal with two different antagonists. As with the previous story, there’s a tie-in with how the adventure at hand seems to tie in with the translation work on Egyptian myths Amelia’s doing; this time around, though, that particular plot device didn’t work for me as well as it did in Book 7.

On the whole, too, the plot just didn’t work for me as well. Even after recently re-reading it, I’m having a hard time thinking of things that stand out aside from the introduction of one other important character: Bertha, who is quite important in the next couple of books. So just to get the context on her as well as the introduction of David, you might make sure to include this book in a comprehensive read of the entire series. But if you’re looking for the high points, you could skip this one without too much trouble. Three stars.

Book Log #65: The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog, by Elizabeth Peters

The Snake, the Crocodile and the Dog

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have frequently admitted that I am a sucker for an amnesia plot, that grand old staple of television series and of romance novels–and yeah, Elizabeth Peters has one, too. That would be The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog, Book 7 of the Amelia Peabodies, in which Emerson loses enough years off his memory to make him think he doesn’t have a wife. You can guess that this causes Amelia quite a great deal of consternation.

Really, though, this book is almost less about that than it is about Amelia and Emerson rekindling the romance of the early years of their relationship. Ramses and Nefret are not active in this plot, although periodic letters from Ramses threatening his imminent arrival in Egypt bring some Funny, and much of what drives the events in this story are the ramifications of news getting around about the Emersons finding Nefret. This clears the way for Amelia to focus exclusively on her husband and with the mystery at hand. And that’s not the only relationship getting explored, either, as there are quite a few twists involving a particular character I shall not name for fear of spoilers.

And I’ll say for Peters that her particular handling of an amnesia plot is at least slightly less goofy than many. Yeah, you have the obligatory nasty crack on the head, but that’s not all the abuse that Emerson takes at the hands of his captors; there’s enforced intake of opium as well. I could have done without the psychologist showing up later to spout assertions about how Emerson doesn’t really want to remember that he has a wife, but hey, it does fuel Amelia’s tension through most of the plot. Plus, there is a nicely understated resolution to it all.

This would not be an Amelia Peabody without the appearance of at least one memorable cat. In this case, it’s Anubis, the first male cat to join the Emerson family, and the comparisons between him and Bastet and how the Emersons’ workmen react to each animal add some amusing color to the proceedings. There is delightful character interactionb between Amelia and Abdullah. And, of course, there is excellent mileage with Sethos. But I’m not sayin’ where. Wouldn’t want to give a Master Criminal away, after all!

All in all a fairly self-contained story, not vital to the overall arc of the series, but fun nonetheless, and the adventure ties in nicely with the Egyptian tale that Amelia translates through the course of the novel. Five stars.

So if you want to read the Amelia Peabodies

asked me about this, so I thought I’d do a longer post on the topic of which books in the Amelia Peabodies are more skippable than others if you want to read the series but are finding it slow going.

Book 1, Crocodile on the Sandbank. Not optional. After all, it’s how Amelia and Emerson meet. ;)

Book 2, The Curse of the Pharaohs, and Book 3, The Mummy Case – Fairly skippable. Ramses is still very young at this point and not as actively participating in the plots.

Book 4, Lion in the Valley – Not skippable just on the grounds that this one introduces Sethos, although be warned that the initial stretches of the book are pretty slow going.

Book 5, The Deeds of the Disturber – I have great love for this one as I mentioned in last night’s review post, but if I absolutely had to make the call, and you’re trying to condense your reading down to the most important books in the series, you could skip this one. But I’d encourage you not to!

Book 6, The Last Camel Died at Noon – Critical. Introduces Nefret.

Book 7, The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog – Skippable, despite the fact that it’s an amnesia plot and I’m a sucker for those. It’s a fairly self-contained story involving Amelia and Emerson, since Ramses and Nefret are left behind in England. Nice callbacks to the early days of their relationship, but you won’t miss anything major if you skip it.

Book 8, The Hippopotamus Pool – The main point of interest for this one is that this is the book that introduces the last major critical character to come into play, and that’s David. However, the plot is mostly skippable. I didn’t even remember it, or that it’s the one where David shows up, until my recent re-read.

Books 9-12, Seeing a Large Cat, The Ape Who Guards the Balance, The Falcon at the Portal, and He Shall Thunder in the Sky, form an internal quartet of sorts as they are the books that form the major arc of Ramses and Nefret. Strongly recommend that you do NOT skip any of these. They’re also the ones where Peters starts writing quite a bit of the story from Ramses’ point of view, as well as putting in occasional letters written from Nefret’s POV.

Be warned that Book 11, The Falcon at the Portal, has things in it that annoyed the hell out of me on my first read of the book and which still annoyed me on my recent re-read. Be warned also that the ebook version I read of this on my nook was very badly done; there were typos all over the place, missing words and broken formatting, and in several places the name Selim was read as Scum, and the word Sitt was shown as Sill. I’m seriously wondering if this ebook was put together as a bad OCR job.

That said, read it anyway (in non-ebook form unless there are better ebook versions than the one I have), as there is critical stuff in there that sets up the book that comes after, He Shall Thunder in the Sky, which more than made up for Falcon‘s transgressions. ;) Note also that Book 12 has a Major Reveal involving Sethos as well, another reason that this book is arguably the high point of the series. Do not skip Book 12 under any circumstances!

After Book 12, though, things get fairly optional. (I have review posts to come for these.) It is important to note that two of the later books actually take place chronologically earlier in the series–and in fact fall right between The Ape Who Guards the Balance and The Falcon at the Portal. These are Book 16, Guardian of the Horizon, and the most recent one, Book 19, A River in the Sky. In my opinion both of these are fairly skippable since they’re just going in and filling in missing time, and don’t really bring anything new to the overall saga of the Emersons.

I’ve only read books 13, 14, 15, 17, and 18 one time each and barely remember anything about them, aside from how you get new child characters that come in as the next generation of the Emersons. Books 13-15 were solid enough as I recall, and I remember being charmed by book 15. However, it was round about book 17 that I found that Peters’ writing was starting to feel pretty perfunctory, without the same vivacity and spark that her earlier works had shown. (This may just be a matter of Peters’ age; she’s in her 80’s now and she showed the same problem with Book 6 of the Vicky Bliss series too.)

So if you’re in the mood to keep going after Book 12, Books 13-15 I think go more into depth with Ramses doing intelligence work during World War I, and Book 15 is a good stopping point for that. But 17 and 18 were both fairly skippable.

Any questions? :)