MANHUNT - Christian Jacq
For those unfamiliar with Christian Jacq and his work, he is a leading Egyptologist and author of the bestselling RAMSES and THE MYSTERIES OF OSIRIS series, as well as several novels on Ancient Egypt (a total of around 27 books now I think). MANHUNT is the first in what appears to be a new series - THE VENGEANCE OF THE GODS.
MANHUNT is the story of a conspiracy. The killing of all but two members of the Guild of Interpreters is the start - it seems they have all been killed to keep a plot (for or against Ahmose) hidden. Kel is a convenient scapegoat to be blamed for the killings and he must escape the inquisitor Judge Gem and prove his innocence. Unfortunately, despite his talent with languages, he is not immediately able to translate the coded papyrus. Kel has to rely on the help of his friend Bebon, the actor; Nitis, the priestess; and a donkey called North Wind to escape the authorities and find the key to translate the papyrus.
MANHUNT was the first disappointing book I've read by this author. The style of the dialogue is extremely formal, but it's the same for everyone, so it's very hard to pick which character is which, and therefore give them some context in what is obviously an elaborate societal hierarchy. The formality is also delivered in staccato timing which, combined with the actions of Kel, give the whole thing a stop / start / rushed feeling. Kel escapes the authorities time and time again by simply running away - no-one in authority ever seems to recognise him anywhere, even people who have seen him multiple times before, yet his friends or supporters never seem to have any trouble.
Unfortunately most of the characterisations in MANHUNT seem pretty weak, probably also because many of their motivations are underwhelming and, frankly, some of the behaviour just downright odd. The stand out character is the donkey - North Wind, but even then, his behaviour is fabulously interesting, but there's absolutely no reason given for anything he does.
The other problem is that, even allowing for the idea that this is the first book in an ongoing series, the ending of the book just stops, seemingly with nothing much resolved. Okay there's a cliffhanger there to lead you into the next in the series, but it's too abrupt, and there's too much unresolved in the first book. It's dangerously close to disingenuous.
What does work well is the insights into Egyptian rituals and practices, including some useful footnotes explaining some elements of the book. Don't let MANHUNT put you off Christian Jacq's books. Hopefully the second in this series, The Divine Worshipper which is due out around April 2008, will live up to the standard of the other series by this author.
Egypt, 528BC. Kel, a young scribe recently hired by the prestigious Guild of Interpreters, arrives at work one morning to find the entire staff slaughtered. He flees in panic, taking with him the mysterious coded papyrus his colleagues had been deciphering. Thus he becomes prime suspect at the centre of an intrigue of State.
For Egypt is at a turning point in her history. The throne has been usurped by Pharaoh Ahmose, an idle drunkard interested only in forging an alliance with Greece, blind to the disturbing shadow of the Persians taking shape on the country's borders. The court is riven by intrigues and betrayals. Alone, pursued both by the conspirators who have framed him and the Egyptian police, Kel realises that if he is to prove his innocence, he must uncover the secrets of the papyrus. But can he survive long enough to crack the code?