Harper Torch, New York
July 2001 (pb)
Carol Thurston is by no means the first author to juxtapose two plot lines in a story, one in a contemporary context and the other in an ancient time, and have them converge to form one seamless and related plot (I would refer readers to Ann Benson’s wonderful The Plague Tales and its somewhat less imaginative but still entertaining sequel, The Burning Road), but in her first novel, The Eye of Horus, she has demonstrated that she is among the very best.
Thurston describes the odyssey of a young physician named Senakhtenre (Tenre), living in ancient Egypt during the time of Tutankhamen and his immediate successors. The author deftly weaves fact and fiction together, describing a second millennium B.C. Egypt that is seething with intrigue, political chicanery, religious zeal and intolerance and good old-fashioned human lust. Tenre helps deliver the infant Aset, daughter of a high priest named Ramose and Nefertiti, wife of the “heretic king,” Akhenaten, who unsuccessfully tried to introduce monotheism to ancient Egypt. For the next quarter century Tenre is teacher, mentor, protector, lover and finally husband to Aset, whose very existence is in constant peril from her mother and the zealots who overthrew Akhenaten.
Almost four thousand years later (and in alternating chapters), Thurston spins another tale. Kate McKinnon, a medical illustrator, is hired by a Denver museum to create displays for the Egyptology department. With the help of Max Cavanaugh, a Denver radiologist, she tries to unravel (metaphorically speaking) the secret behind an enigmatic mummy—a young woman who died violently in the second millennium B.C. Even more mysterious is the man’s skull found between the young woman’s legs. In her quest to discover the truth behind this perturbing burial, Kate drifts perilously close to the borders of obsession and madness as the two stories begin to merge.
I was prepared not to like this book very much. I generally find stories of ancient Egypt and its various dynasties terribly confusing and actually pretty boring. But Thurston not only made this ancient and rather alien world fascinating and comprehensible. She creates characters, both ancient and contemporary, that are believable and more importantly, that the reader begins to care about very deeply. But best of all, she tells a good story and tells it well.