The Oracle of Avaris
The Oracle of Avaris
"There are many things [the oracle] could resolve," Pepi agrees, expression serious. "Which is why you need to find her as quickly as possible."
I take a deep breath. "The king thinks there might be a third prophecy."
"I agree with him," he says calmly.
"He also said the best place to begin looking for the oracle is at her temple, but that Kalali was the only person to know of its whereabouts."
"Not the only one." Pepi taps one of the maps with a finger. "As you know, my mother belonged to that sect of priestesses. They guard the oracle who is produced from their midst every generation. A few nights before she died, my mother told me of their location, a highly protected secret." He looks down at the map, murmuring under his breath. "Almost as if she knew ..."
Distracted by the papyri, I only now notice the small pile of glittering green gems by Pepi’s hand. He’d lent us the mystical stones to aid in Paser’s healing; they were a powerful complement to the scroll.
"You think the priestesses will assist us?"
"I hope so; they might know where she is, or what became of her."
The end of the second novel in this series, The Desert Prince, left readers figuratively at the edge of cliff as Sesha and her three friends, Paser, Reb, who are fellow Thebans, and Pepi, the Hyksos spy whom the others had rescued from a particularly nasty sort of imprisonment, race across the desert on the heels of Yanassi, a chieftain and the presumed heir of the throne of the kingdom of the Hyksos. He, they assume, is headed for Avaris, the capital of the kingdom where the Hyksos king is dying.
The beginning of the present volume, by contrast, has the four friends on a boat peacefully travelling down the Nile, practicing one-on-one combat – quite a switch! However, the political situation remains unsettled; the succession to the throne is not an open-and-shut case. There are at least two oracles which prophesy that "One from the Line of the Physician Will Rule the Land For Forty Years". Paser thinks that this means Sesha whose father was, indeed, a famous physician. Moreover, she has the all-important healer's scroll with the help of which she hopes to cure Yanassi's favourite lieutenant, something which is also mentioned in the oracle. She favors Pepi as successor to the throne, partly because she believes him to be the present king's illegitimate son rather than his nephew and partly because she thinks he would make a better king than his cousin Yanassi. It's all very complicated and is made more so by the present king's expectation of a third prophecy from the oracle – except that this oracle, whom readers gradually discover is a priestess of a very exclusive temple hidden away somewhere in the desert, but who has disappeared and is, therefore, not actively preparing for the day of the solar eclipse when her oracle is expected to be delivered by appearing in the capital, has disappeared.
After the dying king names Pepi and Yanassi as his joint successors – an unworkable situation, one would think! – the other three go off across yet another stretch of desert in search of this priestess-oracle, pursued this time by an evil assassin in the pay of Yanassi. And so it goes, from one crisis to another, one political minefield to another, until finally all is resolved. Pepi turns out to be the one who actually fulfills the oracles, the fact that the third prediction is for disaster after forty years is glossed over, and all ends happily ever after.
It is a bit peculiar that, in spite of the breakneck pace, the number of events squeezed into a small space of time, the variety of subplots, and the obviously evil intentions of various villains, the story doesn't grab the reader as I kept feeling it ought. Perhaps it was the multiple reiterations of the three prophecies and the various strains of political intrigue that keep one from caring much about the outcome. There was a hint of a developing romance between Sesha and Paser, a liaison that would not have been possible had Sesha, in fact, been the future ruler of the Hyksos, but they seem to feel no urgency in the matter. (Interestingly, there seems to be no problem with the possibility of a girl being "king", although there was no mention of its ever having happened before.)
All in all, we are relieved that everything works out for the best for the four friends, that the possibility of war against the Thebans has receded, if not vanished, and that Yanassi dies (ultimately by his own hand) before Sesha's best friend actually has to marry him, leaving the way open for yet another budding romance. Readers of the series will have enjoyed it enormously, but they will not be entirely sorry that the author didn't manage to stretch her trilogy into a quartet.
Mary Thomas is a once-upon-a-time librarian in Winnipeg, Manitoba, who still loves young adult literature, convoluted plots, and happy endings.