In the twilight days of Pharaoh Mentuhotep, a slave stumbles into the path of imperial ambitions. And in contemporary times, a brilliant scientist and her ruthless companions come close to achieving the impossible: the revivification of an ancient mummy. The two stories weave together in a tale that combines science and myth, anticipation and horror…
I only discovered an appreciation for a good mummy tale with last year’s Jurassic London anthology The Book of the Dead. I still think it is their best anthology to date and I absolutely adored it. So when I received this novella by Robert Sharp for review, I was immediately enthused, because yay more Jurassic mummies, which is less anachronistic than it sounds. The Good Shabti also featured a cool and unexpected mix of historic fantasy and SF. Unexpected because I hadn’t expected to find SF mixed in with traditional Egyptian mummies.
This mixture is achieved by dint of a dual narrative, one strand set in the time of Pharaoh Mentuhotep and telling the story of the titular good shabti and the other in an unspecified present or near-future time, where scientists believe they’ve discovered how to raise the dead and are working to revive millennia old mummies. They feel quite distinct from each other, but both have heavy overtones of horror to them, even if for very different reasons. In the Mentuhotop the horror comes from the desperate position Bax, our protagonist of that strand is put in: he’s a body slave, forced by the dying Pharaoh to make a promise which will put him in opposition to all the powers of the court. In the modern-day tale, the horror element is created through the anticipation or, perhaps more accurately, dread of the results of the scientists’ experiment with the mummy. Ruth, the protagonist of the contemporary strand, isn’t all that sure whether this is going to end well.
Beyond the genre elements in both narrative strands, they are also united in their tackling of questions about life after death. The Pharaoh is starting to doubt whether he can be restored when traditionally mummified and his priests are convinced that he won’t be able to enter the afterlife without the proper rites. They all want to assure that Mentuhotep reaches the afterlife. The modern-day scientists on the other hand want to discover immortality and thus avoiding the afterlife entirely. However, Ruth also ponders of what happens after death, whether her subjects are suspended, caught in a continuous remembrance of their last thought, or whether they experience something else.
The alternating narrative strands are written in distinct styles and can be read separately from each other and still make sense. Yet when read interwoven as the author presents them they pack an extra punch and crank up the tension even further by bouncing off each other. I really enjoyed this novella by Robert Sharp. If you enjoy a good mummy read or are looking for something spooky to entertain you through the long December night, The Good Shabti will certain fill that desire.
This novella was provided for review by the publisher.