Pharaoh by David Gibbins
1351 BC: Akhenaten the Sun-Pharaoh rules supreme in Egypt…until the day he casts off his crown and mysteriously disappears into the desert, his legacy seemingly swallowed up by the remote sands beneath the Great Pyramids of Giza.
AD 1884: A British soldier serving in the Sudan stumbles upon an incredible discovery – a submerged temple containing evidence of a terrifying religion whose god was fed by human sacrifice. The soldier is on a mission to reach General Gordon before Khartoum falls. But he hides a secret of his own.
Present day: Jack Howard and his team are excavating one of the most amazing underwater sites they have ever encountered, but dark forces are watching to see what they will find. Diving into the Nile, they enter a world three thousand years back in history, inhabited by a people who have sworn to guard the greatest secret of all time…
Jack Howard is a modern day Indiana Jones type, part academic, part action man. Along with his friends and colleagues of the International Maritime University, he travels the globe uncovering facts behind myth and legend. His latest adventure finds him in Egypt and the Sudan attempting to track down the lost secrets of the Nile.
What really caught my imagination though were the chapters that take place during the nineteenth century. Major Edward Mayne is tasked with reaching Khartoum before a fundamentalist army reaches the city. Working with a native American Mohawk tracker, Mayne travels the desert, avoiding enemy forces in a race against time. The action scenes are handled with real skill and I particularly enjoyed the bloody encounters that form part of Mayne’s journey to Khartoum. Gibbins descriptive powers veer towards the graphic and leave nothing to the imagination. When soldiers die it is in the most gruesome of fashions. This is brutal, violent stuff and doesn’t sugar coat the horrors of war. It’s nice to find an author who doesn’t shy away from chaos of the battlefield.
The short prologue set in ancient Egypt, the nineteenth century chapters and those set in the present day all fit together well and create an entertaining, action packed story. The author is an experienced archaeologist and diver in his own right and that knowledge filters through into his writing.
A quick Internet search reveals this is the seventh Jack Howard adventure and it has an episodic feel about it. There are a couple of throwaway lines that I suspect are references to the previous novels. I’ve not read any of the other books in this series but I didn’t feel particularly hindered by this, if anything it has piqued my interest. The writing is accessible and even as a new reader I was very quickly up to speed with everything I think I needed to know. Existing fans are bound to get a little more from the novel but I don’t think I was missing out massively. I can appreciate that there is a lot of backstory, six whole books worth, that I am unaware of but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel at all.
One thing I think I should mention, as a word of warning, Pharaoh does end on a bit of a cliffhanger. I’ll avoid spoilers, but it definitely feels like there is much more to this story still left to be told.
There are some additional notes at the end of the novel detailing the various sources that the author drew his inspiration from. I like this inclusion, I’m sure any reader would find it interesting to see details of the historical fact that was the basis for this fiction.
Pharaoh is published by Headline and is available on 23rd May. Blending together the best from historical and thriller genres this was a lot of fun. I suspect there may be more Jack Howard novels in my future. If you’re a fan of Clive Cussler or Dan Brown then you are bound to enjoy this.