5 out of 5 stars
In The Horus Road, the final installment to Gedge’s Lords of the Two Lands trilogy, the story of the Tao’s family attempt to reclaim Egypt from the Setiu invaders reaches a thrilling and riveting climax. I can’t say it’s the best book of the trilogy (deciding that would be something of a Sophie’s Choice), but I can say it’s a wonderfully written, compulsively readable finale.
Ahmose Tao, Prince of Weset and self-proclaimed pharaoh now that both his father, Seqenenra, and brother, Kamose, have both died at the hands of those who claimed to be loyal yet ultimately betrayed them, has successfully reclaimed the entire land of Egypt. The last bastion of Setiu rule is their capital city, Het-Uart, a thickly walled repository of Setiu troops and scared citizens. Those impassable walls also held Ahmose’s sister, Tani, Apepa’s hostage these many years, as well as the physical symbols of Egypt’s divinity, the Horus throne, the double crown, the Crook of Mercy and the Flail of Justice. During the long months away from Weset, while Ahmose continues to lay siege to Het-Uart and finish the reclamation of his beloved country, a new center of Egyptian administration is taking shape under the capable hands of Ahmose’s wife Aahmes-nefertari and his mother Aahotep in Weset, both of whom effectively keep Egypt running by organizing and supervising the many small details required to keep a country working. Yet there’s a distance between Ahmose and Aahmes-nefertari which has nothing to do with their physical separation and as Het-Uart finally falls and a final betrayal to Ahmose’s reign comes to light, engineered by Apepa and orchestrated by Tani, Ahmose must decide if seeking reparation for such a awesome treachery is worth the price: the loss of his marriage and love of Aahmes-nefertari
As with the other books, the battle scenes are the poorest part of the novel, suffering from a lack of dynamism as the writing itself remains adroit. The only exception were the scenes describing the sieging of Het-Uart and, later, the Rethennu fortress of Sharuhen, which, perhaps because they were so much more intimate than the other large battle scenes, seemed to have a greater sense of urgency and were infused with a more authentic sense of the chaos which would surround such close-quarters fighting. Where Gedge really shines is in the complex interplay of her characters and their very human reactions and emotions. We see the fragility of Aahmes-nefertari as she tries bring together a nation in her husband’s absence while dealing with the trauma of childbirth and infant mortality; the desperation of Ramose as he attempts to rescue Tani, his idealized love; the cutting-to-the-quick of both Ramose and Ahmose as Tani reveals how she’s changed from the free-spirited girl they both knew years ago. Towards the end of the novel, these full-developed relationships intertwine to create a heartbreaking resolution of the story. That's said, Tani’s story is the most engrossing and the one which is the most vexatious. ***Spoiler alert!*** When we finally meet her after being closeted away by Apepa’s side for so many years, we see that she’s no longer Egyptian, but has adopted Setiu manners, to the point of even changing her name to Tautha. Her excuse? She was so long with Apepa, frightened and alone, missing her family, sure that Apepa would execute her for her family’s actions, but instead Apepa treated her with kindness and consideration. Soon she fell in love with him and consented to marry him. So that when Het-Uart finally falls and Egypt is free, she refuses to go home with Ahmose, instead holding fast to her marriage vows and claiming that her duty lies with her husband, Apepa and choosing the people of her husband over her own family. This sort of betrayal and cowardly behavior is so upsetting and abhorrent, it made me agree with Ahmose when he tells her “My only regret is that Ramose did no strangle you when he saw what you had become.” I mean, she even demanded an Egyptian burial for Apepa, using her status as a princess of royal blood to blackmail Ahmose into complying. My horror at Tani’s behavior equaled that of Ahmose’s.
In the end, The Horus Road is a rousing, nail-biting, undeniably satisfactory ending to a trilogy of books which comprise just about some of the best ancient Egyptian historical fiction out there.
Read March 24-April 1, 2012
Reviewed May 16, 2012