Filler content with Egyptians

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #24:-

Christian Jacq
Simon & Schuster pb, 390pp, £10

Set in ancient Egypt at the end of the reign of Ramses the Great, the story centres on The Place of Truth, a secretive community of artists and craftsmen, whose activities are vital to the country’s spiritual wellbeing. It concerns the attempts of three people, the sculptor Nefer, his wife Ubekhet and friend the painter Ardent, to be accepted into this exclusive community, and of a fourth, the aristocrat Mehy, to destroy it.

This is a historical novel with fantasy elements, though as yet it’s unclear how significant these are, and it’s also the first volume in a series. There’s a setting the scene feel to the proceedings, so that while an awful lot seems to happen at the end we’re not much further forward. Egyptologist Jacq is the author of the bestselling Ramses Series, but on this evidence his literary skills are not commensurate with such success. The characters are unengaging and the prose is dull, with few of the telling observations that bring time and place, people and events to life, no vivid strokes of colour to make it all feel real. The book’s structure is artificial, as if somebody told Jacq he’s only allowed to use so many words per chapter, so that we get some scenes teased out over three chapters and other chapters that are a mishmash of several, creating the illusion of breakneck pace but no real sense of drama.

Given Jacq’s professional standing one assumes the facts are correct, but as fiction the book is worse than indifferent. The Place of Truth is based on the historic community of Deir el Medineh, revealed in a C4 series and book by John Romer, which I’d advise anyone who’s interested in Egyptology to seek out instead of wasting time on this tosh.

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