Book Review: The Twelfth Transforming by Pauline Gedge

I know I’ve read Gedge before. Gedge is known for writing Egyptian stories (even her scifi story “StarGate” has an Egyptian bent). Some years back, I read her House of Illusion. It was an okay story, not really memorable. Her older book, The Twelfth Transforming I think I would remember far, far more.

12th transforming

The book tells about the reign of Amunhotep told mainly through the eyes of his mother, Tiye. Prophesied to cause the death of his father, Amunhotep slowly descends into madness, taking Egypt with him. He uproots the royal palace and relocates it in a desert-like land. He instills the rule of worshiping one god instead of many, but does it so that it causes chaos and confusion. He also sees himself as the only bearer of the god to spread his seed, and he does so by sleeping his wife (cousin), all of his daughters, and even his mother.

Incest is already pretty much the standard in Gedge’s book when it comes to Pharaohs. They marry cousins and the old pharaoh before Amunhotep is entertained by his daughter. But even within this setup there’s objections. The old pharaoh is also taking a young boy to him to bed as well, and that’s got the populace shaking their heads. He also doesn’t sire children with his daughter–he does that with his other wives. I guess if you’re going to sin horrendous, you still gotta set standards…or else you become just like Amunhotep–bedding children far before they’re ready to become mothers. Nefrititi is in this, too, as the scheming first wife denied the title of Empress–that goes to Tiye, Amunhotep’s mother after he marries her–and her attempts to take power for herself on ends up in exile and humiliation. But at least she looks nice.

A few weeks before I read this book, I watched “Marie Antoinette” by Sofia Coppala. A lot of nothing happened in that movie, which was how Coppala meant it to be. Just a queen going to party after party after party, far removed from the action and the turmoil happening in her city. Reading Gedge’s book gave me the same feeling. Lots of parties and luxurious activities take place in the book. But instead of lurking in the periphery, tragedy flourishes within the palace itself, growing as Amunhotep takes the throne, changes his name to Akhenaten, and begins his downslide into ruin. The people surrounding him knows he is taking them to hell, but they claim they’re powerless. After all, Pharaoh is god. You don’t take down god. Thus, you can’t help but watch as a drought devastates Egypt, alliances are cut loose, royal children die one after another, and Amunhotep grows more and more mad. And though I cringed at each of his insane antics, I couldn’t stop reading either. It’s like “Marie Antoinette” meets “Macbeth”.

I do say that the book goes longer than it should. Gedge mainly tells the story through Tiye’s eyes, but then Tiye herself dies (in a strangely convenient way) and the story somewhat lingers after that. You want it to end, but it doesn’t, suddenly switching to a power struggle between a Fanbearer Advisor and the Captain of the Army. I understand the necessity for it, but their battle really dragged the story down and I skipped whole passages just to get to the end. But still, I really did like this book. It gets 4 out of 5 cobra headed crowns and thank God that we don’t have power hungry insane dictators who think they’re god anymore in this day and age. Oh, wait…