So this is will be something of a hybrid post for me. On the one hand, I’m going to review Jackie French’s Pharaoh: The Boy Who Conquered the Nile, and give you my thoughts about the book, but on the other hand I thought it might be cool to consider how the book influenced an original piece of fiction I wrote, Narmer and the God Beast, which I revealed the cover for last week.
Here we go!
Review: I really enjoyed this book. French’s writing style is super accessible and easy to read, probably something that means success for this book in the juvenile fiction space, which I believe is the audience this book is written for (confirmed on Compulsive Reader in Interview with Jackie French). Typically, now that I’m an adult, I often find that reading YA or Juvenile fiction is difficult because it often seems ‘written down’ to its audience or super infused with things that the author believes are ‘hip’ or ‘what the kids like’ these days. I didn’t notice any of this in Pharaoh.
As for the story? I think it was definitely well researched, well imagined, and well realized if not quite what I was expecting.
I’ll start with well researched because it’s immediately clear to anyone reading this book that French put in work here. Not only is Narmer’s world immersive and rich with detail and vivid imagery, but you can then flip to the back of the book and see just where all detail came from. I think I almost enjoyed reading the research section as much as the actual novel as I learned a good deal about Ancient Egyptian culture, religion and history, and was inspired to pursue my own inquiries after finishing.
For instance, the land of Punt, which Narmer and The Trader travel towards in hopes of wealth and riches, was called Ta Netjer by the Ancient Egyptians meaning “The Land of God”. Ta Netjer does not play a roll in Narmer and the Godbeast’s story (yet), but it did become important to some other writing in this universe (ahem the novel — what?). Also, I have mild suspicions that it became the Ta Ntry of Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy as I think they are in about the same spot.
But I digress . . .
I say well imagined, because truth be told, there is not a ton of history (or literature) that covers this period of time. There are a few main artifacts associated with Narmer (his palette and his macehead) but otherwise, there is a lot that we still do not know. French had a pretty blank canvas to fill in (perhaps an advantage, but I know for me it would be a disadvantage) and I feel she did so beautifully.
Which brings me to well realized. Just read this passage:
It was like a dream, thought Narmer, as servant after servant brought in bales of panther skin, fragrant wood carved into delicate boxes, beads of lapis lazuli and turquoise, the bronze plates he now knew as mirrors, heaps of myrrh resin, slabs of ebony wood, piles of elephant tusk, small bowls filled with a strange, almost green-coloured gold, the rarest in the world, curls of cinnamon bark, khesyt wood, small coloured jars of incense, and eye cosmetics.French, Jackie. Pharaoh: The Boy Who Conquered The Nile. 2007 pg 143. . . accessed on Compulsive Reader in A review of Pharaoh by Jackie French
I know while writing my own story, I definitely tried to re-create passages like this in order to immerse the reader in my version of Ancient Egypt (which has dinosaurs)
My last critique of this piece is unfortunately a bit of a negative one. I feel like when we see a title like “Pharaoh” and think of Ancient Egypt as the setting to a story, we have certain expectations. We want great pyramids, golden sands and golden jewelry adorning the living person of an ancient king, or the gilt sarcophagus of one long dead (mummies!).
I felt this book was a little slack on some of the imagery we often associate with ancient Egypt. I think this is because a good portion takes place away from Egypt, in search of Punt, and later, in Sumer (Mesopotamia). And the portions that are in ancient Egypt feel little like the Ancient Egypt we know. This Egypt is one of small river towns, long before any pyramids were ever built. This is accurate to the time period, but a little disappointing if you’re expecting “peak Egypt” (does that count as a pyramid joke?), or Ancient Egypt at the height of it’s glory and mystique.
So . . . Read it?
Oh yes, definitely give this one a read. The book is well researched, and French’s imagination despite little historical inspiration, is a triumph. Also, the book is just beautifully written and realized. After finishing, I immediately looked for a sequel but sadly, I could not find one.
Welp. That’s about it for the review. Have you read this one? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments. What were your favorite parts? Tell me everything . . .
See you next time!
Still here? Awesome. I hope you enjoyed Pharaoh: Boy Who Conquered the Nile (a Review). As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was a major influence on my own story, Narmer and the God Beast. I revealed the story’s amazing cover art and blurb last week, illustrated for me by Lee Eschliman and I’ll continue to be putting out posts about my influences for this story all month until the story’s official launch on October 4th. If you like anything you’ve seen so far, you can head over to Amazon and preorder it now.
If you want more of my writing, please check out my fiction page, or consider signing up for my newsletter at https://jdweber.news/EgyptAndDinos. It will give you access to exclusive fiction, special offers, and just my general life and nonsense (here’s a sample newsletter). Just for signing up I’ll send you an email with the very first story I ever wrote about a Warlock Doctor.
Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!