Sunday, January 1, 2017

Hand of Isis - Jo Graham

Hand of Isis
Jo Graham
Orbit
Copyright Date: 2009
978-0-316-068024

The jacket blurb:
Set in ancient Egypt, Hand of Isis is the story of Charmian, a handmaiden, and her two sisters. It is a novel of lovers who transcend death, of gods who meddle in mortal affairs, and of women who guide empires.
That's the blurb for the trade paperback edition I have. The blurb currently available through Amazon.com is as follows:
Charmian is handmaiden to Cleopatra. She is also an oracle, gifted with ancient memories that may hold the key to preserving Egypt. Through blood and fire, war and peace, love and death, she will face a desperate struggle that will remake the future of the world.

Shortlisted for the Locus Best First Novel Award, included in The Amazon Editors' Top Ten List in Science Fiction and Fantasy for 2008 and the Locus Recommended Reading List, with starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, Jo Graham is one of the most exciting new voices to come out of historical fantasy in recent years.
This is one of my favorite historical fiction novels, that I've read and reviewed now several times. Each time I find myself enjoying the book anew - although I always wonder "if only" because the story is one where we all know the ending, even on the first read.

There were a few things that jumped out at me on this read in particular. First of all is one thing I really enjoy finding in a historical fiction novel: a further reading list of sorts, where I can go to find out more information about the time-period, people and cultures involved in the story. For me at least, a good historical fiction novel can lead to wanting to find out more about the reality of the background for a story - thus the search for information on Japan after watching The Last Samurai, for example.

The second item that I found myself intrigued by was the level of technology that Dion and his compatriots were demonstrating and working with at the Museum. Now I want to know more about that and about Alexandria in general. See the above point for a further reading list again. I think I'm going to be hunting down some of the books in it this time.

The third is a quote from the story that just resonated with me given current events.
"Ever since the Gracchi we've had this passion for the common man, for a just plain fellow off the street who hasn't got any airs. Good plain solders who can't tell their ass from a bucket. Why, the gods alone can tell us! But there it is."
From the chapter He Lives and Reigns.
"What-if's", "where might things be now, but for...?" For me, this whole book is full of those thoughts. Overall, there's a definite tone of melancholy and inevitability to the story, and it just draws me in as a reader.

I can't recommend Hand of Isis enough to any historical fiction reader, and many fantasy readers. I'm almost certain that if you enjoyed reading any of Katherine Kurtz's historical fiction novels or Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, you'll enjoy reading this one, and Jo Graham's other novels as well.
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