Monday, 10 April 2000

Paul Doherty: The Mask of Ra (1998)

Edition: Headline, 1999
Review number: 473

Many historical novelists have a period of history for which their writing seems particularly well suited. This is partly because writing a good historical novel involves a good deal of research, so that the background is most convincing when it matches a period of history the author is interested in, understands well, or has already done closely related research for previous novels. When an author moves to a different setting, the novels are often poorly executed. Paul Doherty has concentrated on medieval Europe, a setting which (because he had been a researcher in medieval English history before turning to fiction writing) he already knew well. Occasional works with other backgrounds - seventeenth century France, for example - were not as convincing.

Thus, my expectations for a Doherty novel set in the far more alien background of ancient Egypt were not high. However, The Mask of Ra turned out to be well worth reading, and I found this different background almost as convincing as that of Doherty's Hugh Corbett and Brother Athelstan series. Mind you, my knowledge of Egyptian culture is a little sketchy. I occasionally had the feeling that I was being lectured to a little to much, because Doherty expects his readers to find ancient Egypt very different from anything in their experience.

The major problem with this novel is that its main characters, Amerotke and his servant Shufoy, are too similar to Hugh Corbett and his servant in both their personalities and relationship to one another. This shows a lack of imagination on Doherty's part, which really should have been avoided, particularly considering that many of the readers of this novel will have read some of the other series.

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