[Is this thing on? C’mon, you two, move over and let me talk—you had your turns.]
Sadie and Carter Kane don’t have much in common. After the death of their mother, Sadie was raised in England by their grandparents while Carter was raised by their father, the globe-trotting Egyptologist Dr. Julius Kane. One Christmas Eve on their biannual visitation day (all that their grandparents will allow), Dr. Kane takes his children to Cleopatra’s Needle and tells them it’s where their mother died, but not in an accident as they had always been told. Suddenly they are attacked in the British Museum by a man on fire who puts their father in a sarcophagus and makes it sink into the floor. Now they’re going to New York in a flying boat with their uncle Amos (who they barely remember) Sadie’s cat Muffin (who’s actually the Egyptian goddess Bast), and their father’s workbag—the one that contains all of his magician’s tools. Sadie and Carter must learn magic, gather together new allies, and fight against the evil god Set and his wicked magician followers, and bring the gods back to the world.
I like Rick Riordan’s work. He makes mythology very clear and relevant to the modern age, by showing how both mortals and gods need to adapt to the times as well as what the stories used to be. It makes the old stories incomplete, by showing how they are ongoing. I also really like that he ventured away from the standard Greek/Roman gods to the Egyptian ones. While they have similarities and connections, it is a very different culture with different stories. Almost everyone uses the Olympians, including Riordan in his Percy Jackson series, but it’s always nice when an author looks at other pantheons. I also like the point he makes about family. The Kane siblings are biracial—their mother was white and their father was black, and Sadie favours their mother while Carter looks like their father. It’s not an important part of the book about magic and gods and fighting evil, but it irritates both of them when people assume that they aren’t family because they don’t look alike, and it’s a good point to make for readers—sometimes other people are dumb and don’t understand, but it doesn’t mean your family isn’t your family.
The format of alternating between Sadie and Carter’s points of view works well. It gives the reader both perspectives, and builds up the suspense when one narrator ends on a cliff hanger and then the other narrator takes over and goes back or in another direction to explain their separate adventures. It’s fairly obvious that’s what Riordan is doing, but it is a young adult novel so the reader may not be as familiar with the technique, and as I said it works.
Rick Riordan tells a solid adventure story with lively characters and makes learning ancient mythology interesting while changing it appropriately to suit the needs of the story.
The following is a transcript of a digital recording. In certain places, the audio quality was poor, so some words and phrases represent the author’s best guesses. Where possible, illustrations of important symbols mentioned in the recording have been added. Background noises such as scuffling, hitting, and cursing by the two speakers have not been transcribed. The author makes no claims for the authenticity of the recording. It seems impossible that the two young narrators are telling the truth, but you, the reader, must decide for yourself.
C A R T E R
1. A Death at the Needle
WE ONLY HAVE A FEW HOURS, so listen carefully.
If you’re hearing this story, you’re already in danger. Sadie and I might be your only chance.
Go to the school. Find the locker. I won’t tell you which school or which locker, because if you’re the right person, you’ll find it. The combination is 13/32/33. By the time you finish listening, you’ll know what those numbers mean.
Just remember the story we’re about to tell you isn’t complete yet. How it ends will depend on you.
The most important thing: when you open the package and find what’s inside, don’t keep it longer than a week. Sure, it’ll be tempting. I mean, it will grant you almost unlimited power. But if you possess it too long, it will consume you. Learn its secrets quickly and pass it on. Hide it for the next person, the way Sadie and I did for you. Then be prepared for your life to get very interesting.
Okay, Sadie is telling me to stop stalling and get on with the story. Fine. I guess it started in London, the night our dad blew up the British Museum.
Amos took a deep breath. “Julius was attempting to summon a god. Unfortunately, it worked.”
It was kind of hard to take Amos seriously, talking about summoning gods while he spread butter on a bagel. “Any god in particular?” I asked casually. “Or did he just order a generic god?”
Sadie kicked me under the table. She was scowling, as if she actually believed what Amos was saying.
Amos took a bite of bagel. “There are many Egyptian gods, Carter. But your dad was after one in particular.” He looked at me meaningfully.
“Osiris,” I remembered. “When Dad was standing in front of the Rosetta Stone, he said, ‘Osiris, come.’ But Osiris is a legend. He’s make-believe.”
“I wish that were true.” Amos stared across the East River at the Manhattan skyline, gleaming in the morning sun. “The Ancient Egyptians were not fools, Carter. They built the pyramids. They created the first great nation state. Their civilization lasted thousands of years.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And now they’re gone.”
Amos shook his head. “A legacy that powerful does not disappear. Next to the Egyptians, the Greeks and Romans were babies. Our modern nations like Great Britain and America? Blinks of an eye. The very oldest root of civilization, at least of Western civilization, is Egypt. Look at the pyramid on the dollar bill. Look at the Washington Monument—the world’s largest Egyptian obelisk. Egypt is still very much alive. And so, unfortunately, are her gods.”
“Come on,” I argued. “I mean…even if I believe there’s a real thing called magic. Believing in ancient gods is totally different. You’re joking, right?” But as I said it, I thought about the fiery guy in the museum, the way his face had shifted between human and animal. And the statue of Thoth—how its eyes had followed me.
“Carter,” Amos said, “the Egyptians would not have been stupid enough to believe in imaginary gods. The beings they described in their myths are very, very real. In the old days, the priests of Egypt would call upon these gods to channel their power and perform great feats. That is the origin of what we now cal magic. Like many things, magic was first invented by the Egyptians. Each temple had a branch of magicians called the House of Life. Their magicians were famed throughout the ancient world.”
“And you’re an Egyptian magician.”
Amos nodded. “So was your father. You saw it for yourself last night.”
I hesitated. It was hard to deny my dad had done some weird stuff at the museum—some stuff that looked like magic. “But he’s an archaeologist,” I said stubbornly.
“That’s his cover story. You’ll remember that he specialized in translating ancient spells, which are very difficult to understand unless you work magic yourself. Our family, the Kane family, has been part of the House of Life almost since the beginning. And your mother’s family is almost as ancient.”
“The Fausts?” I tried to imagine Grandma and Grandpa Faust doing magic, but unless watching rugby on TV and burning cookies was magical, I couldn’t see it.
“They had not practiced magic for many generations,” Amos admitted. “Not until your mother came along. But yes, a very ancient bloodline.”
Sadie shook her head in disbelief. “So now Mum was magic, too. Are you joking?”
“No jokes,” Amos promised. “The two of you…you combine the blood of two ancient families, both of which have a long, complicated history with the gods. You are the most powerful Kane children to be born in many centuries.”
I tried to let that sink in. At the moment, I didn’t feel powerful. I felt queasy. “You’re telling me our parents secretly worshipped animal-headed gods?” I asked.
“Not worshipped,” Amos corrected. “By the end of the ancient times, Egyptians had learned that their gods were not to be worshipped. They are powerful beings, primeval forces, but they are not divine in the sense one might think of God. They are created entities, like mortals, only much more powerful. We can respect them, fear them, use their power, or even fight them to keep them under control—”
“Fight gods?” Sadie interrupted.
“Constantly,” Amos assured her. “But we don’t worship them. Thoth taught us that.”
I looked at Sadie for help. The old guy had to be crazy. But Sadie was looking like she believed every word.
“So…” I said. “Why did Dad break the Rosetta Stone?”
“Oh, I’m sure he didn’t mean to break it,” Amos said. “That would’ve horrified him. In fact, I imagine my brethren in London have repaired the damage by now. The curators will soon check their vaults and discover that the Rosetta Stone miraculously survived the explosion.”
“But it was blown into a million pieces!” I said. “How could they repair it?”
Amos picked up a saucer and threw it onto the stone floor. The saucer shattered instantly. “That was to destroy,” Amos said. “I could’ve done it by magic—ha-di—but it’s simpler just to smash it. And now…” Amos held out his hand. “Join. Hi-nehm.” A blue hieroglyphic symbol burned in the air above his palm.
The pieces of the saucer flew into his hand and reassembled like a puzzle, even the smallest bits of dust gluing themselves into place. Amos put the perfect saucer back on the table.
“Some trick,” I managed. I tried to sound calm about it, but I was thinking of all the odd things that had happened to my dad and me over the years, like those gunmen in the Cairo hotel who’d ended up hanging by their feet from a chandelier. Was it possible my dad had made that happen with some kind of spell?
Amos poured milk in the saucer, and put it on the floor. Muffin came padding over. “At any rate, your father would never intentionally damage a relic. He simply didn’t realize how much power the Rosetta Stone contained. You see, as Egypt faded, its magic collected and concentrated into its remaining relics. Most of these, of course, are still in Egypt. But you can find some in almost every major museum. A magician can use these artifacts as focal points to work more powerful spells.”
“I don’t get it,” I said.
Amos spread his hands. “I’m sorry, Carter. It takes years of study to understand magic, and I’m trying to explain it to you in a single morning. The important thing is, for the past six years your father has been looking for a way to summon Osiris, and last night he thought he had found the right artifact to do it.”
“Wait, why did he want Osiris?”
Sadie gave me a troubled look. “Carter, Osiris was the lord of the dead. Dad was talking about making things right. He was talking about Mum.”
Suddenly the morning seemed colder. The fire pit sputtered in the wind coming off the river.
“He wanted to bring Mom back from the dead?” I said. “But that’s crazy!”
Amos hesitated. “It would’ve been dangerous. Inadvisable. Foolish. But not crazy. Your father is a powerful magician. If, in fact, that is what he was after, he might have accomplished it, using the power of Osiris.”
I stared at Sadie. “You’re actually buying this?”
“You saw the magic at the museum. The fiery bloke. Dad summoned something from the stone.”
“Yeah,” I said, thinking of my dream. “But that wasn’t Osiris, was it?”
“No,” Amos said. “Your father got more than he bargained for. He did release the spirit of Osiris. In fact, I think he successfully joined with the god—”
Amos held up his hand. “Another long conversation. For now, let’s just say he drew the power of Osiris into himself. But he never got the chance to use it because, according to what Sadie has told me, it appears that Julius released five gods from the Rosetta Stone. Five gods who were all trapped together.”
I glanced at Sadie. “You told him everything?”
“He’s going to help us, Carter.”
I wasn’t quite ready to trust this guy, even if he was our uncle, but I decided I didn’t have much choice.
“Okay, yeah,” I said. “The fiery guy said something like ‘You released all five.’ What did he mean?”
Amos sipped his coffee. The faraway look on his face reminded me of my dad. “I don’t want to scare you.”
“The gods of Egypt are very dangerous. For the last two thousand years or so, we magicians have spent much of our time binding and banishing them whenever they appear. In fact, our most important law, issued by Chief Lector Iskandar in Roman times, forbids unleashing the gods or using their power. Your father broke that law once before.”
Sadie’s face paled. “Does this have something to do with Mum’s death? Cleopatra’s Needle in London?”
“It has everything to do with that, Sadie. Your parents…well, they thought they were doing something good. They took a terrible risk, and it cost your mother her life. Your father took the blame. He was exiled, I suppose you would say. Banished. He was forced to move around constantly because the House monitored his activities. They feared he would continue his…research. As indeed he did.”
I thought about the times Dad would look over his shoulder as he copied some ancient inscriptions, or wake me up at three or four in the morning and insist it was time to change hotels, or warn me not to look in his workbag or copy certain pictures from old temple walls—as if our lives depended on it.
“Is that why you never came round?” Sadie asked Amos. “Because Dad was banished?”
“The House forbade me to see him. I loved Julius. It hurt me to stay away from my brother, and from you children. But I could not see you—until last night, when I simply had no choice but to try to help. Julius has been obsessed with finding Osiris for years. He was consumed with grief because of what happened to your mother. When I learned that Julius was about to break the law again, to try to set things right, I had to stop him. A second offense would’ve meant a death sentence. Unfortunately, I failed. I should’ve known he was too stubborn.”