Several love stories, numerous murders, the discovery of an undead mummy, the bringing to life of Cleopatra, and an ending which is not an ending keep the reader occupied and amused from beginning to end--enjoyable escape reading. Famed archaeologist Lawrence Stratford has discovered a mysterious tomb belonging to Ramses, while excavating in Egypt in 1914. Ancient hieroglyphs and Greek and Roman inscriptions warn potential discoverers of the tomb that Ramses had been alive for a thousand years when he entered the tomb--that he is immortal, forced to live as Ramses the Damned. Inside the tomb are jars filled with liquids, one of which is thought to ensure immortality.
Brought back to London in his mummy case, Ramses is eventually awakened by the sun, which was worshipped by the Egyptians. Bursting his bandages, he escapes into twentieth century England, where he becomes known as Reginald Ramsey. His love for Julie Stratford, daughter of the now-deceased archaeologist, becomes more complicated, however, when he and Julie return to Egypt and he discovers and brings to life the mummified body of Cleopatra, his former lover.
The triangle of Ramses, Cleopatra, and Mark Antony underlies and adds tension to the modern romances of Ramsey and Julie, and of Cleopatra and Alex, Julie's former fiance. Subplots involving the murderous Henry Stratford (Julie's cousin), the vengeful Cleopatra, and the "helpful" Eliot, Lord Rutherford (Alex's father), add over-the-top drama to the romances and keep the action moving at breakneck speed.
Rice's descriptions of the England of the day, through the astonished responses of Ramses and Cleopatra to the modern world, provide insights into the period and the passion for Egyptology. Ironies, especially one associated with a modern death, compete with Rice's delightfully gruesome descriptions to keep the reader repulsed and amused simultaneously, while deliberate parallels with the opera "Aida," which figures prominently near the end of the novel, cleverly set up Rice's conclusion--at least as far as it goes here.
Readers familiar with Rice expect characters who never die, bloody confrontations, and unlimited gore--pure escape reading. But they also expect some sort of conclusion, or, in the case of her series, follow-up novels which eventually resolve the story. This novel, though written as if it is the introduction to a new series, remains a stand-alone, with a "conclusion" which does not resolve the major issues. Rice may have written herself into a corner here--it is difficult to imagine any conclusion that could work, given the way this one ends. Still, Ramses/Ramsey's story is great fun--a light entertainment that never pretends to be anything else. n Mary Whipple