Top positive review
An entertaining historical mystery – with a cat!
Reviewed in the United States on December 30, 2016
This tale was thoroughly enjoyable! It has several things going for it: the exotic setting of ancient Egypt, appealing and quite human characters (even to the Pharaoh himself), a mystery that must be solved and a murder to be prevented, and most of all – one of the principals is a cat!
Ancient Egypt is so unlike our own era that it’s easy to lapse into formality and stiffness when writing about it. After all, the art of the time is quite formal and unrealistic, and the religious practices have little in common with ours of the present day. However, Harris makes the setting believable while at the same time letting us know things are different by the judicious use of description. We can feel what life might have been like in the oasis on the banks of the Nile. She has in effect created a conworld based on a historical period of our own planet. The characters speak in a relaxed manner, at times even indulging in a bit of modern slang, but not so much that it seems unnatural. One can imagine that it’s a translation of the jargon used in ancient Egypt.
I particularly liked some of the descriptive metaphors. The cat “sprawled on his back with his legs splayed wide to catch the most sunshine. He looked like he’d been squashed by a sledge.” And again, “I was feeling small, lonely and a little like a solitary clay bead in a big rattle.”
And then the cat – the big, spotted Sacred Cat Nefer-Djenou-Bastet from the Temple of Bast, who adopts our young scribe Sitehuti for no reason anyone can discern. Neffi is a wonderful cat, with special powers of prescience. He made me think a little bit of Santa Claus (maybe just because I was reading this over Christmas!) – you better watch out because Neffi knows if you’ve been bad or good and he will take appropriate action! And yet he behaves like a real cat most of the time, preferring to drink out of a footbath rather than out of his pristine water bowl. Anybody who likes cats will take delight in this tale!
Some readers may be put off by the complex and interrelated names, but that didn’t bother me, since I write conlangs and always enjoy names. I’m sure the author did extensive research and I would have liked to see a glossary included, giving the meanings of the names.
The only thing that disappointed me a little was the end, which just sort of petered out without any punch. I had thought there might be a cliff-hanger in preparation for another book in the series, but that didn’t happen; the story just sort of stopped. However, I’m sure there will be more tales about the young scribe Sitehuti and the Sacred Cat Neffi, and I’m looking forward to reading them.