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Friday, June 29, 2012

eBook Review: The Great Sphinx of Amun-Ra by Herbert Smith

I must say, reading The Great Sphinx of Amun-Ra was likely one of the oddest experiences I've had all year. Herbert Smith first came to my attention as part of the Pump Up Your Book tour, and I was quite eager to give his tale a read. Unfortunately, the book had not arrived in time for my stop on the tour, so Herbert stopped by instead with a guest post. When the book finally did arrive, it was a printed manuscript, complete with a handwritten note from Herbert apologizing for the fact that he wasn't able to staple it.

Somehow, reading the story like that, flipping through loose leaf pages, with no cover or binding surrounding it, seemed to orient me in the experience of the story. I rather felt like an archaeologist myself, perusing a colleague's loose collection of extensive notes, preparing myself for the next morning's dig.

The Great Sphinx of Amun-Ra is a collection of short stories covering more than 7000 years of human history. Blending fact, fiction, mythology, and archaeological theory, Smith explores the origins and the evolution of what we know today as Egypt. Through his eyes we see not just how the people and legends evolved, but how the very landscape changed throughout the years. What I found most interesting, however, was the way in which the Egyptian creator-god Amun-Ra remains dominant throughout the stories. Even though Smith works in various Biblical personages and events, it is Amun-Ra who continues to speak to his people, never giving way to the voice of a Judeo-Christian or Muslim god.

In addition to the voice of Amun-Ra, two things link these stories together - the staff of Amun-Ra (which I'm thinking would make a great MacGuffin for the next Indiana Jones adventure), and the Great Sphinx (who we see evolve from his lion ancestry to the human face we know today). While the shift in characters and stories seemed a bit awkward at first, once you accept Amun-Ra as a character of the story, and not just a mythological concept, you begin to detect the overall narrative flow.

If you have any interest in the history of Egypt, and don't mind being educated while you're entertained, then this is a great story to explore.

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