The Sekhmet Bed: Lavender Ironside
Again, another Indie-published book has moved me beyond my ability to express, has left me in tears, and will remain with me for a very long time. Publishers had a chance at this and passed? It’s really inconceivable. (I don’t know if this book was even offered to agents or publishers, so my comment/question might not apply.)
Okay, short rant over.
I’ve read many historical novels in the past few years, or tried to, and have been disappointed repeatedly, almost to the point where I don’t want to read historical fiction anymore, and have gravitated more toward the fantasy genre. The problem is that I can’t seem to get emotionally invested.
In any novel, first and foremost, I need to be invested in the characters. If I can’t find that investment, I cannot care about what happens. Reading becomes a chore. For example. I spent months reading Dreaming the Eagle, by Manda Scott. While I was highly impressed with the author’s vision and ability to write, and many of her phrases were beautiful and visual, I still could not get emotionally invested. It took months to read because I didn’t really care enough to pick it up after putting it down. And it was far too easy to put it down. I wanted to read that book. I’m very interested in Boudica and I want to know everything I can about her. But it was a chore to get through the book, and I haven’t yet picked up book number two. Another example would be Pressfield’s Gates of Fire and The Last of the Amazons. Both subjects are of great interest to me, and I wanted to read them as part of getting immersed in my own story/time period. But I have never succeeded in getting past the first few chapters of Gates of Fire and although I did finish The Last of the Amazons, it ended up being very much like Dreaming the Eagle. I just couldn’t get invested, even though the subject is of interest to me and the writing is stellar. At the other end of the spectrum is The Red Tent. I loved every line of that book and hated for it to end. I could read The Red Tent forever!
Everything in books is subjective, and there are many readers who love the books listed above. It’s very hard for me to pin down something concrete as to why the emotional attachment never happened for me in them. I guess if I had to really try, I would say that the main characters seemed to be kept at a deliberate distance from the reader.
After reading The Sekhmet Bed, I began to understand all this in a better way, because The Sekhmet Bed succeeded where, for me, these other two highly praised books did not. As happened with The Red Tent, I became emotionally invested in the characters. The Sekhmet Bed offers us the princess, Ahmose, and her pharaoh, Thutmose, (whom I adored). Then we get the nasty sister, Mutnofret, and Ineni, the lover. Even Ironside’s secondary characters, like Aiya, Twomose and Sitre-In became real, fully-fleshed out for me. I would pick up The Sekhmet Bed intending to read for only a moment, because a moment was all I had at the time. Fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, a half hour later, I would still be reading, even though I felt antsy because I had other things I needed to be doing. I could not stop reading. I had to know what happened next. I had to know what was on that next page.
For this reader, that is the mark of a successful novel. I have found this quality is not guaranteed by being published through a big publishing house, or having a well-known name. It isn’t my intent to run down the books I mentioned: they are beautiful in many ways and expertly written. But for me, they were missing the key element I personally require to be satisfied.
It occurs to me that this might be the reason for the popularity of romance novels, which often rely heavily on the thoughts and emotions of the characters.
Many of the scenes in The Sekhmet Bed clearly show how fragile life was in ancient Egypt, even though in some ways, they lived very comfortable, modern lives. Still, the wound caused by an animal bite could fester, and they had no way to stop it. There was danger all around, not only from invading tribes but crocodiles, snakes, and childbirth. Throughout everything runs the gods, their ultimate control, and the need to appease them.
I loved how vividly the author shows the power of women in this culture. I learned so much from this book: about ancient Egypt, and about the possible birth, childhood and subsequent power of Hatshepsut, the famed woman who ruled as pharaoh. I loved how the names of the children, even the Pharaoh’s offspring, were chosen by their mothers. Although the book never ever fails for a single moment in its storytelling ability or in its beautiful voice or in the deep, vibrant connection between character and reader, it still managed to convey a tremendously visual, real, easy-to-identify-with culture and society.
I absolutely loved the full-circle progression of the complex relationship between Ahmose and Mutnofret. I don’t believe I have ever read a book where I disliked a character so much, and by the end of the book I loved her and felt intimately connected to her.
I must stop as this is getting so long. I must not tell more, in fear of writing any spoilers, and because I cannot do any real justice to the many layers of wonderful prose that make up The Sekmet Bed. I will just suggest that anyone who reads this pop on over to Amazon (click on the book cover image) and get yourself a copy.