The novel covers the life of Pharaoh Ramesses II, from his ascension to the throne until his death. The story unfolds in a narrative between the king and his architect, Sennefer. Solidly grounded on known fact, the story is a review of the king's attitudes about his building campaign, military career, family relationships, thoughts on him being a god, his kingdom's religion, its social structure and his role as a dynamic pharaoh.
The central theme is Ramesses growing awareness of tomb robberies, his field trip through the extensive necropolis around Memphis and his dismay upon finding the stripped burial chamber within the Great Pyramid which convince him that tomb robbery is a threat to the supreme necessity of protecting his remains. He tasks Sennefer with a commission to build him an impregnable, hidden tomb, in the Valley of the Kings.
Most historical accounts about Ramesses end when he was about fifty years old. The novel creates a narrative of the remaining forty years of his life and, within this period, the area of fiction develops. The principal characters are portrayed as genuine people – the powerful and self-proclaimed God-Pharaoh, his Architect, their wives and children and those directly involved with major events. They are painted with the richness of their emotional reactions to events that affected their lives.
Running in parallel to the Ancient Egyptian story is the secondary plot based on the work of contemporary British civil engineers contracted to repair a number of structurally damaged tombs in the Valley. Ultimately, they, in concert with a French team working in Ramesses known tomb, accidentally discover the hidden tomb.
- Palmer Higgs
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