Max Overton's Scarab Akhenaten

(Credit: Max Overton)

There are certain things I expect when I read a book. First among them is that the book is actually all there. Unfortunately this was not so for Scarab Akhenaten.

There is a gripping scene, probably the most exciting in the whole book, where the female protagonist has to face down a group of bandits who are going to rape and then kill her. As many authors do at this point, Overton took us away from this scene so that we would race through the next chapter about another character to find out sooner what happened to our heroine. Unfortunately, when we returned to her story, everything had been resolved by some soldiers who hadn’t been on the scene before. I thought I must have accidentally skipped a chapter somehow, so went back to see if I could figure out what had happened. All in vain.

It appears that the all important resolution of this most exciting point in the book was simply left out. By accident, I’m sure, but it was a drag on the story nonetheless. Somewhere, Overton needs to add a Chapter 33a, where we find out how Paramessu saves our heroine, earning her everlasting adoration.Because I hadn’t been there when said rescue occurred, I also hadn’t experienced the reason the heroine was so enamoured of him, so I only felt annoyance that she would be so ungrateful to the boy she expected to marry by mooning after another man.

But let’s move on. Mistakes aside, the book was competent. It paints a very vivid picture of Egypt, explaining rituals and customs amongst the common people and their rulers. However, in places it read like a history book rather than a novel.

For example:

Akhenaten instituted religious intolerance for the first time in our long history. Withdrawing to his city of Akhet-Aten, the king set up his cult of Aten, under which he was the son of the sun and the sole beneficiary fo the blessings that poured down from the god. Akhenaten believed it offered something for the common people but in fact it did not. It did not offer any sort of moral philosophy or laws, nor did it offer a comforting afterlife. The citizens fo Aten’s city at least had the semblance of a religious life with the king active in his self-centered worship, but the rest of the country did not even have that.

The priests of Amun were extremely rich and influential before Akhenaten’s edict and, faced with the confiscation and redistribution of their wealth, started to foment dissatisfaction and incite riot among the populace. Coupled with the weakening of the army, Kemet tottered on the brink of anarchy.

That reads very much like a history lesson, does it not?

The amount of telling instead of showing was also offputting. There is a point where the Egyptian King was doing something particularly stupid, as he often does in the book. As things go badly, he starts to reconsider his decision. However, his trusty advisor firms his resolve in this passage.

Ay advised the King to stand firm, to force the priests to stand down, by the use of force if necessary. He portrayed the uprising as a rebellion against the Aten rather than for the gods; and hardened the king’s heart.

I think this, and other passages like it, would have read better as a scene where we lived the argument through Ay’s own mouth, not through that of the narrator.

The propensity to show and not tell is most likely the reason I did not feel attached to any of the characters, with the possible exception of Smenkhkare. Unfortunately for Overton, if I can’t empathise with the characters, I don’t like the book. That’s why I’m giving it 2/5 and I won’t be buying any of the other novels in his series.

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