Carter and Sadie have nothing in common but their parents: their father Dr. Julius Kane, a brilliant Egyptologist, and their mother, a famed archaeologist who died under mysterious circumstances when they were young. The siblings barely know each other, but one night, their father brings them together at the British Museum, promising a ‘research experiment’ that will set things right for their family. His plans go horribly wrong. An explosion unleashes an ancient evil – the Egyptian god Set who banishes Dr. Kane to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives. Now orphaned, Carter and Sadie must embark on a dangerous quest – from Cairo to Paris to the American Southwest, to save their father and stop Set from destroying everything they care about . . .
As a child I had quite a collection of Ladybird Books, as did many other kids who grew up during the 70s, and my favourites were the two Famous Legends books which included the stories of Theseus and Perseus. I have harboured this interest ever since and loved Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, both for the clever way in which he brought those classic myths into the 21st Century and also for the way in which, through the Percy books, he ignited an interest in these myths for a new generation of kids. As I grew up I developed an interest in the mythologies of other cultures, and especially in those of the Ancient Egyptians. I have been lucky enough to spend a few weeks travelling in Egypt, and last year took my very excited godson, who also shares this interest, to the Tutankhamun exhibition when it came to London. I have therefore been looking forward to reading Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid ever since I first heard about it back in October of last year.
So, did it meet my expectations? I wish the answer was a straightforward yes, but it isn't. However, it is also not a no either. Don't get me wrong, on balance I enjoyed it but it is flawed in several ways that disappointed me. First of, unlike the Percy Jackson series, this took me longer than usual to get into. I think this was because of the way the story is told, in the form of a first person narration by the two main characters, Carter and Sadie Kane, alternating every couple of chapters (supposedly they are recording their story for others to discover). At first I found this a little irritating, although I eventually got used to it (although I'm not sure I needed the supposedly humorous asides that were occasionally slotted in). I also have to admit that I found it a little confusing at times and had to double-check who was narrating from time to time (the publishers made this easy for me by having the name of the narrator at the top of each odd-numbered page), and for me this is a weakness in the author's ability to give his characters individual and distinct voices - Carter and Sadie just 'sound' far too similar, even though one of them has grown up travelling the world with his father and the other has lived a far more normal life with her grandparents in London (and despite this she often doesn't 'sound' British at all).
This way of telling the story leads sraight on to my second moan - there are a number of times throughout the book where a particular incident is told from one character's point of view, and then subsequently retold by the other character when it is their turn to narrate. The consequences of this are that a) the pace of what would otherwise be a very fast-paced plot from beginning to end is affected and b) the book ends up being much longer than it needed to be. In fact, some readers may be deterred from even picking up this book as it weighs in at a mighty 514 pages.
OK... that's my moans taken care of so what elements of the book did I enjoy? Well first of all the 500+ pages are not solely due to the irritating retelling of scenes - as the first book in a new series there has to be a large amount of setting up take place and I believe that Rick Riordan does this pretty well. I think this was easier for him in the Percy Jackson series as the concept of ancient Greek Gods having modern-day offspring was more straightforward. In The Red Pyramid Carter and Sadie are not gods or even demi-gods, they are just normal kids who happen to be descended from the pharoahs of ancient Egypt. This requires a lot of necessary history telling and world building as the two siblings slowly discover that their lives are far from ordinary.
I also loved the way Rick Riordan built the mythology of Ancient Egypt into this modern tale - this man really knows his stuff! Some might say that he is just repeating a formula that he has already proved to be successful, but this is certainly no Percy Jackson copy. Egyptian mythology is far more complicated than the Greek tales and also far less well known (Mummy movies aside it has been represented on the big screen far fewer times) and this creates quite a task for the author. Just read this short piece on Wikipedia about Osiris and you will see what I mean about complicated. However, as I said, Rick Riordan knows his material and his passion for this mythology really shines through, just as it did in the Percy Jackson series, and this will give the inquisitive minds of his young (and old) readers to further investigate and learn about these ancient stories (I have spent a good few hours reading up on the likes of Isis, Horus and Set since I finished the book).
Despite my previous moans and all this plot setting, world building and myth telling the story is still pretty fast paced with the siblings going from one life threatening escapade to the next, sometimes with little time for the reader to get his/her breath back. Rick Riordan has already proven his story telling abilities in the past, and despite its faults this is still an exciting adventure story with plot twists, great battle scenes and engaging characters (including a basketball loving baboon called Khufu). Yes, I was a little disappointed with it, but the Percy Jackson series is a high standard against which to compare this book, and even with the faults it is still a lot better than many books on the market for the 9+ age group. And this disappointment does not mean that I am not already looking forward to the next in the series; in actual fact I am really excited about continuing with this series in the future as I feel that now the scene has been set and the characters established we will see more of the Rick Riordan storytelling that we have come to know and love.
Initially Mr Riordan stated that The Red Pyramid would be the first book in the Kane Chronicles trilogy, although he also said that given the opportunity he may take the story further than this. If this is the case and the books are all this thick then I just may have to invest in a new set of bookshelves to make room for them. The Red Pyramid is published in the UK by Puffin, who very kindly sent me this copy to review, and is available to buy right now. You can find out more about the book and the mythology behind it at the official Kane Chronicles website.