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The mummy walks
on 31 December 2005
Sexy immortals with angst to spare are the cornerstones of Anne Rice's fiction. "The Mummy or Ramses the Damned" takes a different direction, mixing romance with horror and supernatural thrills. It has its flaws, but the raw energy of the book keeps it roaring up to the finale.
Lawrence Stratford uncovers the mummy of Ramses the Second, or "Ramses the Damned." But before he can unravel the mysteries around the mummy, he's murdered by his amoral nephew Henry, and the mummy is shipped to England. Lawrence's daughter Julie takes possession both of the family fortune and the mummy -- only to have the mummy revive when exposed to sunlight, and try to kill the murderous Henry. He's Ramses, an Egyptian king who drank an elixir of eternal life taken from a Hittite priestess.
Long ago, he faked his own death and wandered the world, eventually returning to Egypt and becoming the mentor/lover of the legendary Cleopatra -- only to lose her first to Antony, then to death. At first, Ramses is thrilled by the early-twentieth-century England, and he and Julie start to fall in love. But on a trip to Egypt, he comes across the mummy of Cleopatra, and revives her with a vial of the elixir. Except that this Cleopatra is mad, murderous, torn by her old loves and hates -- and unkillable.
This is not your parents' "Mummy" story. Except for one mildly funny scene where Rameses first revives, there are no stumbling mummies covered in bandages. Instead we have a tortured immortal who wakes up into a new world, while still being rooted in the Egypt of three thousand years ago.
Rice's lush prose is well-suited to the splendor of early twentieth-century England, when Egyptology was the fad -- she has lots of fun with the lace, pearl buttons, and opera houses. Her most awkward points are when Rameses is marveling at/criticizing 1914 England. At the same time, she gives new twists to the tale of the mummy, such as having him romance Cleopatra.
Ramses gives a slightly new twist to the tormented, lonely immortal, by having his almost childlike response to things like faucets and shoes. Julie falls for him a bit too quickly (yes, he's gorgeous, but what else?), but a good love interest. The other characters -- the youth-craving Elliott, his clueless but sweet son Alex, and the money-hungry, evil Henry -- are all intriguing and fully explored. But Cleopatra is what makes the book -- she's seductive but mad, tormented but still loving. Dislike her, but Rice will make you pity her too.
"The Mummy or Ramses the Damned" gives new twists to the story of a mummy come to life. Rather than an undercooked horror novel, Rice gives a thrilling, chilling look at immortality, and how what you want is not what you get.