Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Oasis (Lords of the Two Lands #2)

5 out of 5 stars

Ah, now this is much better! With The Oasis, Pauline Gedge has hit her stride with this story arc in general and her characters in particular. The strengths of The Oasis only serve to highlight the weaknesses of The Hippopotamus Marsh.

I mentioned in my review of The Hippopotamus Marsh how the characters seemed to suffer from a lack of realism and I think part of the problem is that that first book of Lords of the Two Lands trilogy is a set-up book. We meet Seqenenra, the instigator of the story's plot and about whom the main action revolves, at the beginning of the book. However, before we can fully know and understand him and his motivations, he's killed and his active participation in the story is over with, about midway through the book. Then we find ourselves involved with the brothers Si-Amun, Kamose and Ahmose; nominally it's Si-Amun who leads the story line, but then he goes away and Kamose takes his place. Basically, there's so much going on and so many people weaving in and out of the main plot line, it's hard to get a grasp on who these characters really are, what drives them, what they're hiding behind their smiles. However, with The Oasis the focus pretty much stays on Kamose and to a lesser extent Ahmose. Finally we get to see more of these two characters; we get to delve into their fears and hidden talents and discover what makes them tick. Finally we get an idea of who they really are. This discovery also extends to the Tao women. We get to see beyond Tetisheri's imperious facade and see her fears and her weaknesses. Aahotep and Aahmes-Nefertari step out of the shadows and become deeper and richer, more than just mother and widow, wife and sister. Now I can see these people. Now they have become real.

Once again, though, the battle scenes are still weak and underdeveloped. The action is briefly described and hastily done with. However, the tension has been ratcheted up by several notches and there are many scenes which caused me to hold my breath as betrayals and shocking revelations threatened to derail Kamose's attempts to retake Egypt and remove the Setiu stench from his country. Several times throughout the book, I ached with him and felt as exhausted as he when events overwhelmed him. And that is the one constancy between The Hippopotamus Marsh and The Oasis: Gedge's masterful use of language and imagery. She skillfully weaves the ancient history and traditions of Egypt into the story, engaging all the senses and immersing the reader totally. As I noted before, Gedge manages to keep the reader's attention focused in that ancient period by using appropriate language without alienating the modern mindset with stuffy or awkward turns of phrase. Which is why I was quite surprised to find a slip-up. Towards the end of the book, Prince Iasen cries out, in regards to General Hor-Aha, "We are tired of kowtowing to him." (Italics are mine.) Kowtow is from the Chinese ketou which is a combination of the syllables ke knock + touhead. I realize the ancient Egyptians were in trade with many other ancient societies at the time, but would they have used such a word? Even if they would, which I doubt highly, the use of it in the text brought me temporarily out of the story--it jarred me. I think it a better choice would've been the more neutral genuflect or prostrate. I mean, Gedge might as well have written salaam. However, that is the first and so far only error I've found in her novels.

Which is why, in the end, I'm sticking with my initial judgment which placed Gedge head and shoulders above nearly all other ancient Egyptian historical fiction authors.

Read March 14-24, 2012
Originally reviewed on Goodreads March 24, 2012

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