Book Reviews

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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 Sleeper in the Sands by Tom Holland

Reviewed on: June 1, 2003

Abacus Books, London
1999 (pb)

“What is it? Can you see anything?”

“Yes. Wonderful things.”

The question was asked by Lord Carnarvon; the answer was given by Howard Carter, as he first gazed upon the candle-lit burial chamber of Tut-ank-Amen.

This may be the most famous dialogue in the history of archaeology and the story of the discovery of the tomb of “King Tut” is certainly one of the most famous. But Tom Holland has taken that oft-told story, retained the historical accuracies, and has woven around that history a wonderfully rich and fantastic supernatural thriller that will keep the reader enthralled into the wee hours of the morning—especially if the roll of thunder and the flash of lightning provides an appropriate ambiance to consider once again the possibility of the “curse of the mummy.”

Tom Holland, a British writer of considerable skill, has done this sort of thing before—taken authentic historical mystery and then deftly interpreted it with an occult explanation. His Lord of the Dead, published a decade or so ago, offered a suggested explanation to Lord Byron’s mysterious disappearance in the Balkans as he fought for Greek independence against the Ottoman Empire—he became a vampire, an Undead. Not for nothing did Bram Stoker place Dracula’s home on a craggy mountain in Transylvania!

Tom Holland is even more imaginative in Sleeper in the Sands as he traces some of archaeologist Howard Carter’s career prior to his famed 1922 discovery. He works in many aspects to that career to serve the ultimate purpose of his book—to provide an “historical” and mythological basis to the “Mummy’s Curse”—including even his sacking from the Egyptian Antiquities Service after a run-in with a particularly loutish group of German tourists. His unemployment puts him in a position to ultimately wind up working for Lord Carnarvon, who financed the search for Tut-ank-Amen in the Valley of the Kings.

Stealing a page from 1001 Nights, Holland spins a tale tying together the stories of medieval a Christian merchant, an Arab merchant, a Sage of the Mountains, and even a desert jinni, to methodically weave together ancient Egyptian and Israelite creation stories to explain the practice of mummification of Egyptian royalty and ultimately the source of the Mummy’s Curse. Along the way he works into the montage a good bit of medieval Christian and Moslem theology and tradition.

All in all it’s a wonderfully crafted story that should provide hours of reading enjoyment to any Egyptian archaeology enthusiast. Don’t miss this one!

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