1/09/2011. Contributed by Patrick Mahon
pub: Solaris/Rebellion Publishing/HarperCollins. 448 page paperback. Price: GBP7.99. ISBN: 978-1-84416-746-3.
check out website: www.solarisbooks.com and www.jameslovegrove.com
‘The Age Of Ra’ is the first in a series of three thematically related novels by British speculative fiction author James Lovegrove. I reviewed the second in the series, ‘The Age Of Zeus’ in July. As with the previous book, the key idea behind this novel is that one of the pantheons of gods has taken over the world. In this case, the pantheon in question is that of ancient Egypt, headed up by the sun god Ra. They have fought and defeated all the gods from other cultures and times, so that now every country on Earth worships a different Egyptian god. The problem is that the Egyptian gods, rather like their Greek counterparts, are an unhappy family. They are constantly at each other’s throats and, in consequence, war constantly rages across Earth as countries declare war on ‘their’ god’s latest enemy within the pantheon.
As the novel starts, Lieutenant David Westwynter and his squad of British army paratroopers have just parachuted into the Arabian Desert under cover of darkness. Their mission is to liaise with a group of American commandos who have important intelligence for the British war effort on behalf of the god Osiris. Only problem is, the guys they meet aren’t Americans at all, but Iraqi Special Forces. There’s a brief fire fight and at the end of it, David and the remaining four members of his squad are captured by the Iraqis. They are tortured for information and it’s all looking pretty hopeless until the RAF send in bombers to ensure that no trace remains of their secret mission. David and two of his team manage to shelter from the blasts. Their captors aren’t so lucky. Left on their own, the three of them start walking through the desert towards Freegypt, the only secular state in the world. However, Freegypt is fifty miles away and they have no water. Soon enough, both of David’s colleagues are dead while David is having delusional dreams about his privileged upbringing and his spoiled younger brother, Steven. We learn that it was Steven’s death in a huge naval battle, six months after joining the Navy seemingly as a means of irritating his parents, that led to David’s decision to giving up his comfortable position in the family business and join the army.
Rather than dying unseen, David is lucky to be found by a group of wandering Bedouins. However, they take him prisoner, intending to sell him to the Iraqis. So he’s even luckier when the Bedouins are ambushed in the night by a Freegyptian militia unit, led by a woman called Zafirah. She and David are clearly attracted to each other but are both too reserved to do anything about it. Nonetheless, David has soon ceased to be a captive and has become Zafirah’s travelling companion.
Zafirah takes David back to Freegypt and introduces him to ‘the Lightbringer’, an inspirational revolutionary leader who wants the Freegyptians to launch a secular war on all of the gods. David thinks the man, who always wears a mask to hide his identity, must be mad to even think of taking on the gods and tells him so. In response, the Lightbringer sends everyone else away, before unmasking himself. It’s Steven, David’s brother! He confirms that he was on board his navy vessel when it sank, but was lucky enough to end up on a small desert island, from which he was eventually rescued by a passing fishing boat. The experience made him lose his faith in the gods and converted him into the leader he has become.
David joins the Lightbringer and Zafirah as they start to wage a guerrilla war on the gods and their earthly followers. At first, this is highly successful. However, as time goes on, David gets increasingly concerned that Steven is not telling the rest of them the full story. He still can’t see how mere mortals can ultimately defeat the true might of the immortal gods, yet Steven continues to brush all questions to one side. Meanwhile, their attacks become serious enough that the gods start to see the Lightbringer as a genuine threat. So does Steven have something amazing up his sleeve? If not, what is really going on?
‘The Age Of Ra’ is a highly enjoyable action adventure story, full of twists and turns that should keep any reader on the edge of their seat. I particularly enjoyed the interactions between the typically reserved and serious David and his much more relaxed but selfish younger brother, Steven. Lovegrove portrays the British upper class brilliantly and it is a joy to watch the two brothers as they try to manage the conflict between their underlying love for each other and a lifetime of pent-up sibling rivalry, not least when it becomes clear that both of them have feelings for Zafirah. Equally, the chapters that show the gods endlessly squabbling about the same old rivalries bring them to life brilliantly, too. More generally, the many battle sequences throughout the book are very well written, conveying the excitement and horror of war in equal measure.
The only criticism I can make of the book is that it never really deals with the obvious challenge that can be made to Steven’s plan for ridding the Earth of the gods. If the gods are genuinely divine, as they are portrayed in this novel, then it is difficult to see how they could ever be defeated by mere humans. It is hard to understand why no-one challenges Steven more robustly about this at any point. However, this can perhaps be understood on the basis that, like many leaders through the ages, Steven has such great charisma that his followers are willing to suspend their disbelief to whatever extent necessary.
‘The Age Of Ra’ is an exciting story that doesn’t let up from beginning to end. I loved every minute and can’t wait to read the third instalment in the series.
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