Someday, I hope to cruise the Nile and visit the sights of ancient Egypt, following a similar route that Barbara Erskine’s characters travel in Whispers in the Sands, a time-slip historical fiction novel that weaves the majesty and mystery of ancient Egypt that connects the lives of two women, Anna Fox and her great-grandmother Louisa, through a cursed glass bottle from a Pharaoh’s tomb. In Anhotep and Hatsek, the priests whose spirits inhabit the glass bottle, Erskine invokes the legends of old Egypt, who wreak havoc on the lives of Louisa and Anna.
Despite the 150 years that separates their stories, Anna and Louisa share common traits and tribulations. Both women seek escape in Egypt after the end of their marriages; both have artistic talents – photographer and painter respectively, that find an outlet in the vistas of ancient Egypt.
Anna’s 21st Century journey follows the same route Louisa took by steamer ship, recounted in a diary, which recounts Louisa’s journey and the mysterious events that occur. Both women meet a rich cast of fellow travelers from rogues, harridans, mystics, and of course, romantic interests. Erskine has done her research well—describing beautifully the 19th century modes of travel, fashion and customs—both English and Egyptian.
The reader feels the heat of the sun and the pace of life in a foreign (in this case non-English) climate – you can tell that Erskine has been to Egypt. She writes with all five senses—the heat of the desert, the sights and sounds of life of the river cruising to Aswan, the smells and tastes of local food. Above all, you feel her respect for the temples as holy places, inhabited by spirits of the ancient Pharaohs and those who served them.
I really enjoyed this book—though I was less comfortable with Anna’s character arc. Her journey felt less complete, less transformational, than that of her great-grandmother Louisa. Erskine deliberately (so deliberately she writes a note to say so) leaves you hanging at the end. I wish she had given me something more concrete—though perhaps I get to imagine the ending I want for Anna.
I have four dog-eared books by Barbara Erskine, much-loved, read and re-read. Erskine, who writes paranormal historical fiction, has never disappointed me. Lady of Hay, her first book, now celebrating its 25th year in print is still my favorite, followed closely by Kingdom of Shadows and Child of the Phoenix. For those who want more on ancient Egypt, the Ramses series by French author Christian Jacq is compelling, stay-up-all night reading.
- Book Review – Whispers In The Sand by Barbara Erskine (quirkygurl.com)