11 July 2017

Bullet Review: The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess

Review: The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan HessAs many of you know, I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Peters's Peabody-Emerson novels. I started reading the 20-book series before I began this blog, but I believe I've reviewed at least half of the books here.

Peters died in 2013, leaving behind the unfinished manuscript for The Painted Queen. Joan Hess had the honor of using the manuscript and Peters's copious notes to complete this Peabody-Emerson adventure.

So, as I wrote yesterday, I picked up this novel with mixed feelings: very happy to get one last visit with Amelia Peabody but very sad to know it truly was time to say good-bye.

Background on the series: In case you are unfamiliar with the series, the Amelia Peabody-Radcliffe Emerson books take place primarily in Egypt in the early decades of the last century. Emerson is, according to his wife, the best archaeologist in the world. The books each cover a single digging season. Although Peters's scientific, cultural, and historical details are spot-on, the stories are less about Emerson's discoveries and more about murder, theft, and mayhem. We also meet the couple's friends, family, and crew, all of whom become dear to us readers. Throughout the series, we also get to know Peabody and Emerson's arch-enemy, the master criminal Sethos. No summary is complete without mentioning Peters's wonderful sense of humor, which she used to give her characters spark and personality.

Chronology of The Painted Queen: Peters initially wrote the bulk of the Peabody-Emerson novels in chronological order, intending from the beginning to stop the series with the discovery of King Tut's tomb. However, she wrote at least three installments that bridged gaps in the general story arcs, and The Painted Queen was meant to come after book 13 (The Falcon at the Portal).

What I liked about The Painted Queen: Besides the obvious joy at reading another Peabody-Emerson story, I was glad to have a little more information about the second-generation of characters: Ramses (the couple's son), Nefret (their ward), and David (a relative of one their staff), and this book helped provide some missing bits. I was also relieved that the familiar attempted murder, thefts, and forgeries propelled the plot, and I had a least one surprise. The personalities of the characters were true to form, and Amelia's trusty parasol (read: weapon) was put to good use. Long-time fans of Peters will enjoy the nods to the other books in the series, and it was fun to recognize the titles in the running dialogue.

What I didn't like about The Painted Queen: It took me a while to get into this installment because I could tell it wasn't pure Peters. But after a few chapters, I relaxed and let myself be carried off to Egypt, seeing the world through Amelia's eyes. I noticed some repetition of information, a little bit of strain with some of the familiar motifs, and a lot more telling than showing. I also missed the cats, which were always part of the Emerson household. Despite what I wrote in the last paragraph, the details about the next generation were pretty skimpy, and I can't help but wonder what Peters had in mind for the book's role in furthering the series in general. The tensions and friendships among the three younger characters were not as intense as readers have come to expect. Finally, a couple of threads were left unresolved, which I presume would have been followed up in further books, if Peters had lived.

Overall recommendation and thoughts: Even though The Painted Queen had a few weaknesses, I think Joan Hess did an admirable job of completing Elizabeth Peters's manuscript. I can't imagine it's an easy thing to write in someone else's voice, and the job was made all the harder because of Peters's avid fans and because the novel had to fit into an already determined story line. If you've read or are reading the Peabody-Emerson books, you will not want to miss The Painted Queen. I suggest, however, you accept the novel for what it is. I'm grateful for this last Egyptian adventure, and I appreciate the work Hess did to create the story Peters wanted to share with her readers.

The audiobook: Thank goodness the unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 13 hr, 18 min) was read by Barbara Rosenblat; I don't think I could have stood hearing another voice as Amelia, Emerson, and the gang. Although I think her performances were stronger when they were paired with Elizabeth Peters as a solo writer, Rosenblat's familiar characterizations, sense of timing, accents, and pronunciation of the Arabic words were comforting and helped me connect to the story. Rosenblat is the narrator for this series, and her work as a whole on these books is outstanding. (Thanks to Harper Audio for the review copy.)


bermudaonion 7/11/17, 8:14 AM  

I bet my mom would love this.

SuziQoregon 7/11/17, 9:39 AM  

Pretty much what I expected. I'll listen but I know it's not pure Peters so my expectations will be different.

Daryl 7/11/17, 12:28 PM  

tho not a huge fan of this series i have enjoyed some of the books ... but i do understand how you felt because recently i read a series, adored it, then watched the TV version and had to stop and before i could begin again i had to tell myself NOT to make comparisons just go with the story ... it sort of works ....

Claudia 7/11/17, 1:43 PM  

Thanks for the update. I've loved Peters' Egyptian tales and look forward to reading this one.

Heidenkind 7/12/17, 2:23 AM  

I definitely wouldn't want the job of writing the last installment in the Amelia Peabody series. Yikes!

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