My fascination with Egyptian mythology began, without question, with the delicious fear inspired by Lon Chaney’s shuffling and vengeful mummy as he sought the modern embodiment of his ancient love on Creature Double Feature when I was eleven. While in grade school, I tried to teach myself to decipher hieroglyphs and I eagerly read anything to do with the Egyptian gods or with mummies—what kid can get enough of brains being removed through noses, or organs wrapped like tiny presents? My favorite ritual, one that features strongly in Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid, is about the Feather of Truth. When someone died, royal or commoner alike, they journeyed to a realm of the underworld where their heart, believed to be the soul’s heart, was placed on one side of a balance, opposite the Feather of Truth. A pure heart would be lighter than the feather; the bearer of such a heart was granted eternal bliss. A heart heavy with sin would fall below the feather to be eaten by Ammit the Devourer, a demon with the head of a crocodile, the mid-body of a leopard, and the hind-quarters of a hippopotamus. Very tidy—but Egyptian mythology can also be more than a little confusing. In addition to the names, realms, and hierarchies of the gods and goddesses, most have an associated animal and can appear to be human, animal, or a combination of both. In the context of this fast-paced adventure, Mr. Riordan makes this complex subject accessible to middle grade readers. Ancient mythology and the present day are brought together by means of a very unlikely bridge—siblings Carter and Sadie Kane, aged 14 and 12, respectively. While the rest of the world is blissfully unaware of its imminent peril due to one god’s bid for power, Carter and Sadie will have to join forces, accept the requirements of their destiny, and save us all.
This will involve many amazing revelations about their family history and many life-and-death struggles. They meet all of these with remarkable self-possession; because of their family’s innate predisposition for the remarkable, their childhoods were relatively short. Raised separately since their anthropologist mother’s death, Sadie has been living with her mother’s parents in London and Carter has been with their father, Egyptologist and archeologist Julius Kane, traveling from dig site to museum to airport, for the last six years. Carter and Sadie meet only every six months and each is convinced that the other has the better life. Lately, however, Carter has noticed that something about his father has changed. Julius has become more furtive, extra cautious about their security, and his mysterious workbag never leaves his hands. Now, after arriving for a Christmas Eve visit with Sadie, Julius takes his children to the British Museum where something does indeed go spectacularly, supernaturally wrong. Left on their own, the children are whisked magically to safety by their enigmatic Uncle Amos so he can prepare them to finish what their parents started six years ago and hopefully head off the coming conflict between the gods and the magicians.
The Red Pyramid is a classic race between good and evil. In this case, the good are learning on the fly so there are a few smileworthy moments including a magical fight at Graceland that almost reduces the place to rubble and an interesting use for an industrial vat of salsa. From chapter to chapter, the point of view alternates between Carter and Sadie but it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the narrative. This is the first book of the planned Kane Chronicles and I look forward to discovering how Carter and Sadie occupy their time now that they can tick saving the world off their list of to-dos.
Armchair Egyptologists may also be interested in this list of books based on Egyptian mythology compiled by Read In A Single Sitting. Also, Elizabeth Peters is the author of a wonderful mystery series featuring Amelia Peabody that describes (in the context of many other things) late 19th and early 20th century archeological practices in Egypt. Here is her official website.