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Out of the Black Land by Kerry Greenwood
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Out of the Black Land (edition 2013)

by Kerry Greenwood (Author)

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755315,147 (3.59)2
Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt is peaceful and prosperous under the dual rule of the Pharaohs Amenhotep III and IV, until the younger Pharaoh begins to dream new and terrifying dreams. Ptah-hotep, a young peasant boy studying to be a scribe, wants to live a simple life in a Nile hut with his lover Kheperren and their dog Wolf. But Amenhotep IV appoints him as Great Royal Scribe. Surrounded by bitterly envious rivals and enemies, how long will Ptah-hotep survive? The child-princess Mutnodjme sees her beautiful sister Nefertiti married off to the impotent young Amenhotep. But Nefertiti must bear royal children, so the ladies of the court devise a shocking plan. Kheperren, meanwhile, serves as scribe to the daring teenage General Horemheb. But while the Pharaoh?s shrinking army guards the Land of the Nile from enemies on every border, a far greater menace impends. For, not content with his own devotion to one god alone, the newly-renamed Akhnaten plans to suppress the worship of all other gods in the Black Land. His horrified court soon realize that the Pharaoh is not merely deformed, but irretrievably mad; and that the biggest danger to the Empire is in the royal palace itself.… (more)
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Synopsis: 'Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt is peaceful and prosperous under the dual rule of the Pharaohs Amenhotep III and IV, until the younger Pharaoh begins to dream new and terrifying dreams.
Ptah-hotep, a young peasant boy studying to be a scribe, wants to live a simple life. But Amenhotep IV appoints him Great Royal Scribe, and he is soon surrounded by bitterly envious rivals and enemies.
The child princess Mutnodjme sees her beautiful sister, Nefertiti, married off to the impotent, young Amenhotep. But Nefertiti must bear royal children.
The Pharaoh's shrinking army under the daring teenage General Horemheb guards the Land of the Nile from enemies on every border. But far greater menace impends.
The newly renamed Akhnaten plans to suppress the worship of all other gods in the Black Land. His horrified court soon realize that the Pharaoh is not merely deformed, but irretrievably mad; and that the greatest danger to the Empire is in the royal palace, itself.

Review: This is a tangled and wholly engrossing tale told through a strong narrative and including snippets of Egyptian traditional poems and stories. The characters are intriguing, easily liked or despised as called for in the story. Even more interesting is the afterward that deals with the research conducted to write this book. ( )
  DrLed | Oct 4, 2022 |
I was very surprised to see this book from Kerry Greenwood. I only discovered her a couple of years ago, but that was with a contemporary cozy mystery set in her native Australia; I then moved on to the first of her Phryne Fisher novels, set in '20's Australia. So to see a book on Netgalley set in ancient Egypt – this I had to read.

If I were prone to using gifs in my reviews, here is where I'd have Snoopy doing a happy dance or something. (Or, of course, Walking Like an Egyptian.) It was awesome.

We did Egypt in (for whatever reason) History of Western Art in art school; we did Amarna. I knew about that freaky pharaoh Akhnaten and the upheaval of religion and the groundwork laid for the boy king we all know and love, Tutankhamen; I knew the bust of Nefertiti.

Correction – I knew a little. So I was a bit excited for a novel that would delve into it all.

And delve it did. Working from two points of view – from that of Ptah-hotep, a young scribe-in-training plucked unexpectedly out of obscurity to be the personal scribe of Amenhotep's heir (a whim of Akhnaten's which could have gotten the naïve and defenseless boy killed, and would have without allies), and plucked away from the life he longs for; and through the eyes of Mutnodjme, younger sister of Nefertiti, a pragmatic and intelligent girl who asks enough questions to drive her mother mad and also put her own life at risk – and also, perhaps, to help keep Egypt from crumbling away in the upheavals of her time.

Through these two sets of eyes Greenwood lets us see, at the beginning, a peaceful, prosperous, generous, wisely run society, safe and happy and mostly at peace under Amenhotep. Unfortunately, Amenhotep is growing old, and his son has strange ideas about … life, the universe, and everything. When he takes up the sceptre after his father's death, everything changes – and if any of it is for the better, it's hard for Ptah-hotep or Mutnodjme to see it.

It's funny – I remember Deb, our HWA teacher (the good one), talking about all of this. How the rays of the sun were depicted, touching the royal family almost fondly with little hands at the end of every shaft of carved sunlight; I remember her talking about how this was the first time familial affection was shown in Egyptian art. The carvings of Amarna are so relaxed, in many ways, compared to the formality of what came before (and after), with the pharaoh and his lovely wife playing with their children and embracing each other. And that's all here. The Aten is – suddenly – the only god, personified in the sun, and all other gods must be eschewed.

Greenwood talks at length in her afterword about how shifty Egyptology is. Put five scholars of Egyptian history in a room and ask even the simplest question, and odds are there will probably be about six different responses – and every individual will be completely convinced of at least one of his answers. It was a very long time ago, and comparatively little of that culture is left untouched; what we have are fragments of shreds of records in a language which still eludes us in some respects, and the upshot of it all is that I can just imagine seminars full of Egyptologists pulling this book apart and stomping on the bits. But for me as a reader for pleasure it works, beautifully. It all makes sense, and it feels right – this is the Amarna that will live in my mind, and the Egypt that will live in my heart.

It is not easy to adapt to a world in which little girls are married off, and in which those little girls are often the sisters or daughters of their husbands. Incest is irrelevant here – it is the rule, not an aberration, is meant to solidify the royal grip on the throne. But while these Egyptians of some 3500 years ago were an alien race, there were some things that they held in common with most of us: most of them found the rape of a child unthinkable, and they loved their families, odd as the configurations of those families seem to us. It's an alien world, the setting of this novel, but the people? People really never do change.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review. ( )
  Stewartry | Apr 17, 2016 |
Not exactly sure why this book was shelved with mysteries as the only major deaths occur almost at the end and the question of who killed Tutankamen is answered almost as soon as it is asked. Author seems to go out of her way to paint the Aten cult as led by Akhnaten as black as possible. I hold no brief for fanatic monotheism, but I know of no evidence that the period in which Aten was sole god was more oppressive to Egyptian women than other periods, or that Akhnaten attempted to make a human sacrifice of his wife. There are a great number of explicit sex scenes, both hetero and homosexual. The story in engrossing, especially if one compares it with other novels set in the same general period.
  ritaer | Aug 14, 2013 |
I love anything Egyptology and Egypt-related, and so I was interested to read this highly fictionalized account of my favorite dynasty, the 18th dynasty and the sensationalized reign of Akhenaten. The reader must realize that this book is mainly FICTION with very little history behind it; if you want more history behind the 18th dynasty, please read Joyce Tyldesley. However, even with the eyebrow-raising chances Greenwood takes with the novel, I did enjoy it. I did feel the sexual parts were overwrought and unncessary. ( )
  amandacb | May 13, 2013 |
It's always interesting to hear where the idea for a book came from. Kerry Greenwood was on a tour in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt when an inscription on the wall of a tomb triggered a desire to write a same-sex love story in a time and place where it wasn't something that was surprising, noticeable, wrong, or scandalous. What she has actually written is an elaborate, detailed, and fascinating story of an Ancient Egypt as a society which differs dramatically from current day mores.

I've never thought of myself as much of a fan of Ancient "epic" novels, but what I actually don't like is novels that read like research projects. That's not to say that I don't like learning things, but there's a world of difference between being told a story and reading a dissertation. Interestingly Greenwood bemoans the general state of Egyptology in the Afterword to the book, and whilst she's obviously had one serious slog to do the research for this book, she delivers the details in a very engaging style.

OUT OF THE BLACK LAND is a very elaborate book, taking the reader into the royal houses of Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt. It does this via two main narrators - Ptah-hotep, Royal Scribe, lover of Kheperren; and Mutnodjme, royal princess, sister to Nefertiti, lover of Ptah-hotep, wife of General Horemheb. The two main characters tell the story of events around the eventual death of Amenhotep III and the rise of Amenhotep IV who believes totally in monotheism. Amenhotep IV is a strangely afflicted man, impotent and increasing quite mad, he is prepared to overrule longheld religious beliefs ruthlessly. As the new Pharoah causes havoc in the land, Ptah-hotep and Mutnodjme deal with the consequences in their own personal lives.

Ancient Egypt Royalty had a considerably different attitude to sex than nowadays, and in OUT OF THE BLACK LAND there is a complicated series of love and sexual partnerships, marriages and family relationships. Ensuring an ongoing line for the Pharoahs was paramount and arrangements were made that would be considered extremely unorthodox these days, as would the extensive and seemingly incestous marriages that were established. As confrontational as this may be for some readers, it did seem to provide protection and support for people who would otherwise have been vulnerable, to say nothing of a society hierarchy and structure that everyone was used to and comfortable within.

OUT OF THE BLACK LAND does concentrate on the Royal houses and their connections, with little or no reference to the day-to-day lives of ordinary Egyptians as it charts the rise and fall of a despot, interwoven with tales of power games, intrigue and ongoing love and commitment that meld into the day to day life of these people. The same-sex love story that originally triggered Greenwood's desire to write this novel is simply a part of the overall story. It sits within all the other tales of ongoing love and support, the rise and fall of individuals, and the turmoil of a society. The lives and fortunes of Ptah-hotep and Kheperren, Mutnodjme and Horemheb are inextricably linked with that of Egypt as a whole. As society falls into turmoil, so do they. As society settles and matures, so do they. And that is probably the underlying story of OUT OF THE BLACK LAND. Greenwood writes about a world in which a same-sex love story isn't particularly exceptional, but she has created an elaborate, detailed yet extremely readable and accessible story about a society peopled with some exceptional characters.

(Disclaimer: Clan Destine Press is run by friend and colleague Lindy Cameron and I'm lucky enough to wrangle the web site for her). ( )
  austcrimefiction | Jan 7, 2011 |
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Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt is peaceful and prosperous under the dual rule of the Pharaohs Amenhotep III and IV, until the younger Pharaoh begins to dream new and terrifying dreams. Ptah-hotep, a young peasant boy studying to be a scribe, wants to live a simple life in a Nile hut with his lover Kheperren and their dog Wolf. But Amenhotep IV appoints him as Great Royal Scribe. Surrounded by bitterly envious rivals and enemies, how long will Ptah-hotep survive? The child-princess Mutnodjme sees her beautiful sister Nefertiti married off to the impotent young Amenhotep. But Nefertiti must bear royal children, so the ladies of the court devise a shocking plan. Kheperren, meanwhile, serves as scribe to the daring teenage General Horemheb. But while the Pharaoh?s shrinking army guards the Land of the Nile from enemies on every border, a far greater menace impends. For, not content with his own devotion to one god alone, the newly-renamed Akhnaten plans to suppress the worship of all other gods in the Black Land. His horrified court soon realize that the Pharaoh is not merely deformed, but irretrievably mad; and that the biggest danger to the Empire is in the royal palace itself.

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