The Falcon and the Dove
If you like those Indian romances – you know the ones, where the chieftan hero captures and falls for the beautiful blonde heroine who then proceeds to bring the light of progress to his backward tribe – then you’re sure to love this book, which is the exact same plot, transplanted on another continent and crossed with The Mummy for good measure. While this book gets points for the original setting, it loses them for nearly everything else.
Elizabeth Summers is an amateur artist, archeologist and American suffragist, who also happens to be an orphan, having lost her archaeologist parents to a horrible accident. She arrives in Egypt with her uncle Nahid to excavate the famous Amarna site, unearthing relics of long-lost Akhetaten. Meanwhile, she’s also looking for the Almha, a golden disc of power which reportedly holds the cure that will save her ailing grandmother (who coincidentally happens to be Egyptian). While in Egypt, she starts having strange visions, in which she’s Kiya, secondary wife of Pharoah Akhenhaten. And then she meets the fascinating Asim, who looks suspiciously like Sheik Jabari of the Khamsin tribe.
Jabari’s tribe is sworn to protect the Almha, which was buried thousands of years ago by Kiya, whom the Khamsin believe was their true queen. Apparently this is because she was cheating on her husband with a warrior named Ranefer, who then led the Khamsin tribe. When she buried the disc, she foretold that she and her lover would be reborn and bring peace to Egypt. The English and American archaelogists threaten to uncover the Almha, which Jabari must prevent at all costs. But he is distracted by an American woman who haunts his thoughts. And now signs say that Kiya has returned, in a new incarnation. Whoever could she be?
The biggest offenses of this book are those of character, and they range from inconsistency to lack of believability to sheer stupidity. For example, Jabari’s grandfather Nkosi despises Elizabeth from the very beginning. But later in the book, he suddenly reverses his opinion completely and utterly – and unconvincingly – for no real reason, other than convenience. Also, the Khamsin people, individually and as a whole, switch from adoring to despising Elizabeth, and back again, as convenience (rather than logic) dictates. Several other instances would be spoilers if I were to tell you about them, so you’ll just have to trust me; these characters make less sense than a Lewis Carroll poem, and are far less entertaining.
There are also several willful acts of stupidity perpetrated, mostly by the main characters. For his part Jabari is confounded by the fact that signs point to Kiya’s return. Of course, he knows he will recognize her because she will have golden hair, the mark of the dove upon her body, and will have a dove that recognizes her as its mistress. Now, he’s already met the very blonde Elizabeth; in fact, she haunts his every thought. They’re in the desert, just the two of them and his very Egyptian tribe. Oh, and her pet dove. He never suspects that she might be Kiya, until he sees her birthmark. Bright fellow. But not to worry, he’s well matched. Not only does Elizabeth lie without reason in a situation in which lying can only perpetuate mistrust, and serve no good purpose, but she then proceeds to trust someone whom she knows beyond the shadow of a doubt is untrustworthy, and in doing so betrays the man she purports to love. Of course, she’s also self-serving and power-grabbing, but given her intelligence level, I couldn’t see how she’d pose much of a threat.
In addition to the many character defects, the plot is full of holes. According to Khamsin tradition, women are weak and lowly, must be kept in their place, and their virtue guarded. But the Khamsin basically worship Kiya, an adultress who most definitely refused to be kept in her place. As it’s explained repeatedly in the book, the Khamsin revere Kiya, but are also Muslim. Yet when the time comes for Jabari to wed Elizabeth, religion is a non-factor, when in reality, her conversion would be of utmost importance. Nor do the Khamsin act like followers of Islam in any way other than to drop the name Allah from time to time; the women don’t even cover their hair, for all the talk of sheltering and protecting them. And speaking of women, Elizabeth is a suffragist who’s obviously faced much opposition in America, and even her uncle treats her as if she is of lesser importance than the men. Yet she is shocked – shocked! – by the fact that women are relegated to roles of secondary importance in the obviously barbaric Egyptian culture. Although perhaps the oddest moment is when, in the heat of awakening passion, she yells out “Votes for women!” And even odder yet is that Jabari is unfazed by this behavior, instead of drawing the reasonable conclusion that she has spent far too much time in the sun.
Despite the lack of rhyme or reason to much of the story, it does have its good points. First off, the unusual location wins it bonus points, and the unfortunately inconsistent legendary aspect of the story, featuring real historical Egyptian rulers lends a certain charm to the book early on, at least until the reader figures out that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are the detectable seeds of a good book – or perhaps four or five – in this story, but unfortunately the author attempts to tell too many different tales at once, and succeeds with none. With a little more refinement, and concentration on better character and relationship development, Ms. Vanak could become a very entertaining author. However, I can’t recommend this debut. Maybe next time.