Monday, 31 January 2011

The Age of Ra, by James Lovegrove – reviewed

"Barely a century has passed since the First Family finally destroyed the last of the other gods." When Howard Carter returned from Egypt he brought with him the word of God – that God being Osiris. The present day world is now a board on which the Egyptian gods play their wargames. Osiris and Isis have Europe, Set has Russia and China, Nepthys has Africa and the Middle East. The United States belong to Horus, Japan and South-East Asia to Anubis, and South America is shared by the children of Horus. The result: "Their feuds ravage every continent. Their wars murder millions. This has been going on for a hundred years and it cannot continue. Someone must rise against them..."

Egypt is the one country free of their influence, and has been renamed appropriately: "The gods couldn’t agree among themselves who should own the land where their worship first sprang up, so they decided it was best if none of them had it. ... Even spying on Freegypt is against international law." That makes it the perfect place for Al Ashraqa, the Lightbringer, to begin his revolt against the gods. Into Freegypt comes David Westwynter: "a paratrooper, a soldier, a good one". In a book that in some ways is pleasantly old-fashioned, he's a modern hero, not a superhero: he knows how to fight, but makes mistakes, and his successes are never inevitable.

It's hard to review The Age of Ra without mentioning Stargate, but these bickering gods aren't aliens exploiting our backwardness, they're supernatural beings, conjured into existence by human belief. This introduces a refreshing element of pure fantasy into what in other hands might have been dour military sf. This is top quality schoolboy stuff: gods and soldiers, mummies and tanks, deserts and board games, angst and action, calamitous reversals and brave victories. The conventions of battle in this world give us ranged attacks with ba-powered staffs followed by vicious hand-to-hand combat; the climactic battle at Megiddo throws in fighters, bombers and gunships. I felt positively spoiled.

“We are old, you and I, Ra. Time grows short for us. The future is a strange monster. The less there is of it, the more it frightens.” Let gods worry about the future; I'm looking forward to reading the sequels: The Age of Odin, and The Age of Zeus. How could they not be brilliant?

The Age of Ra, James Lovegrove. Solaris, pb, 448pp. Reviewed from pdf.

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