Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hand of Isis - Jo Graham

Hand of Isis
Jo Graham
Orbit
Copyright Date: 2009
978-0-316-068024
The jacket blurb actually says very little about the story:
Set in ancient Egypt, Hand of Isis is the story of Chariman, 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.
If I were in the regular habit of rating books with numbers or stars, this would be a five star, or five out of five read. I absolutely loved it. Don't let the lack of information on the jacket stop you from giving it a try.

What the jacket blurb doesn't say about Hand Of Isis is that the story is that of Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt, and Chariman is her sister and one of her closest helpers. It's not just the story though, but also elements of the supernatural: the Gods of the various religions are real, and they play a role of sorts, making this novel into historical fantasy rather than just regular historical fiction. I will admit that this is a particular favorite sub-genre of mine as well.

We all know the story of Cleopatra, at leas the basics, how she was the lover of Caesar, and then of Mark Antony, and how she committed suicide after he was defeated by Octavian. Given that, we know more or less how the story is going to end. By half way through Hand of Isis I was wishing that somehow the characters would find a way to change what we know from history in order to have a happy ending, even though I knew it wouldn't happen.

Jo Graham wrote characters that just came alive right off the page, from Cleopatra to Dion, their friend. There's no difference from the famous characters to the minor. They all got fleshed out and made real. Quirks, joys, disappointments, they're all there and all part of the characters' lives. Even the cities and temples I could see, hear and smell, even taste as I read.

I couldn't put the book down despite knowing the story, although I don't know the details thoroughly. I think I'm going to have to investigate some non fiction histories and biographies on the subject soon.

That's one thing Jo Graham has done at the end of Hand of Isis. If you want to find out more about Cleopatra and the period, she's included a short Further Reading section. Not too many historical fiction authors do this to my knowledge, and it's something I really appreciate. Katherine Kurtz did it with some of her books, and so has Jules Watson IIRC, but I can't think of too many others off hand.

Although the mass market paperback will be coming out soon, I have to admit that I prefer the cover art on the trade paperback. There's just something about it that catches my attention. Perhaps an air of mystery about the face? And the background reminds me of some of the famous seascapes I've seen in art.

I'll repeat: I absolutely loved this book. If you like historical fiction or historical fantasy, you have to read it.
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