Book Reviews

Review Rating

With the October 2004 review, we began rating the books on the basis of one to four trowels; 
one trowel= don’t bother, to four trowels= run right out to your local book store and buy the hard cover!

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The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned by Anne Rice

Reviewed on: October 1, 2003

Ballentine Books, New York
1989 (pb)

For this year’s “Halloween book review,” I chose a relatively early and relatively obscure novel by Anne Rice, an author better known for her multi-volume “Vampire Chronicles” series. In fact, I think it could be argued that The Mummy is actually one of her very best efforts—a tighter, less sprawling and more focused book than her more popular tales of the Vampire Lestat—and at times a lot more scary!

The Mummy builds on the well-known basic plot of the Boris Karloff 1930s movies, which were then replicated in the mid-century Hammer Productions versions starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and then most recently reiterated in the digitally enhanced special effects extravaganzas starring Brendan Fraser (and in “Mummy II,” the Rock). But Anne Rice then spins the story in her own special way, introducing complex and haunted characters that weave their way through a dream-like landscape of 1920s England and Egypt. Sexual themes loom large in Rice’s invented worlds and they tend to ambiguous in nature and often violent in practice.

The book opens with the description of a Howard Carter/King Tut-like tomb-opening by archaeologist Lawrence Stratford. The tomb is not, however, made of cut stone but of Italian marble and the hieroglyphics etched into the marble are, to say the least, perplexing. They read as follows:

Robbers of the Dead, Look away from this tomb lest you wake its occupant, whose wrath cannot be contained. Ramses the Damned is my name. Once Ramses the Great of Upper and Lower Egypt; Slayer of the Hittites, Builder of the Temples; Beloved of the People; and immortal guardian of the kings and queens of Egypt throughout time. In the year of the death of the Great Queen Cleopatra, as Egypt becomes a Roman province, I commit myself to eternal darkness; beware, all those who would let the rays of the sun pass through this door. (p.4)

This bewildering curse linked Ramses II and Cleopatra, who were separated in time by a millennium, and it is on this puzzling conundrum that Anne Rice hangs her story of eternal life, eternal passion, and eternal madness. While the craft of archaeology is but an incidental backdrop to this story of doomed lovers moving in and out of time, Rice does evoke the ambiance of a by-gone era when archaeology—and especially Egyptian archaeology—stirred the interests and imaginations of the citizenry of America and particularly western Europe.

So as the nights grow longer and more blustery, curl up in front of the fireplace and let Anne Rice transport you into the world of The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned!

Twenty Years in the Trenches: Archaeology in Fiction

William Gresens, longtime MVAC supporter and volunteer, has been writing reviews of archaeological fiction as MVAC’s book reviewer for twenty years.  In this interview Bill shares how he got started writing reviews for MVAC, how the genre has changed, highlights, and his thoughts looking forward. 

Bill Gresen’s Book Review 20th Anniversary

While Bill's reviews go back 20 years now, his relationship with MVAC goes back more than twice that long! The reviews capture some of the things we enjoy most about Bill-- he's perceptive, methodical, a clear thinker, and a whole lot of fun! We look forward to this relationship--and Bill's reviews!--continuing for many years to come.

The March 2021 review marks the 20th anniversary of reviews of archaeological fiction.  It has been my pleasure and great fun to while away the hours reading these books—for the most part, at least—and writing the reviews!  My thanks to MVAC allowing me to prattle on and I look forward to the years ahead.

Bill Gresens