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SERIES REVIEW: THE KANE CHRONICLES


First Published in Daily Times (Pakistan) / 07 July 2013 under the title 'Walk Like an Egyptian...god'
Author: Rick Riordan
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

When ancients get their marching orders, it comes with an unexpected makeover. When Rick Riordan dabbles in mythology, it comes with some expected upgrades. The Heroes of Olympus, spin off to Percy Jackson and the Olympians series awakened both Roman and Greek gods for a few rounds of ‘mortal’ combat. Things happened. During the brief intermission, he rolled out a fresh set of gods, tracked down more heroes and stumbled upon a shiny new quest. The Kane Chronicles is bound for the land of Pharaohs with a brother, sister duo in tow who are descendent from an ancient line and have an Egyptologist for a father. One “lives out of a suitcase” and the other is “British.” And then they discover their true lineage and hearing voices in their collective heads becomes part of the Kane package.

Eastern mythology crackles with the same feverish energy witnessed earlier in the Greek/Roman universe that lies not too far from Brooklyn House, safe haven for this particular merry band of misfits. Never seen before deities leap out of the shadows, celebrated gods reclaim the limelight and because this is Egypt, magicians emerge from the woodworks.

Sadie and Carter Kane always seem to be on some deadline, like their counterparts in Manhattan, and must work on an ultra-steep learning curve. Egypt, best known for its preserved kings and perhaps some ‘Cold Bepsi’, naturally figures in these escapades but since the siblings have been raised apart (on differing continents), both the UK and the US can be their home away from home.

A Riordan adventure is typically sponsored by the usual brand of courage, sacrifice, honour and loyalty, and unleashing elaborate sequences of death and destruction and freelancing baddies to keep our heroes on their toes is the norm. Its modern settings notwithstanding, magic becomes the centerpiece, leaving magicians’ time to argue over the implications, political or otherwise, of hosting flighty gods. A dash of absurdity livens up the skyline. With Armageddon knocking at the gates, onlookers can always do with some levity.

Despite the similar sounding outlines, high velocity arcs and ridiculously high stakes, the multi-ethnic contours of this world add some texture to the narrative and allow thinly veiled ghosts of racial discrimination to rise to the fore. The series is supposedly a collection of recordings thoughtfully transcribed by the author and both Sadie and Carter’s perspectives come in play. Also, deities sporting a ‘Made in Egypt’ label come in stronger flavors and richer contrasts. Where Greek and Roman gods have alternating aspects, Isis and Horus can truly add “it is very, very complicated” to their status. They can be siblings, off-springs or a couple depending upon the time of the day; the convoluted family tree is carefully sorted out in The Red Pyramid before readers proceed any further. An expedition to their old stomping grounds renews old cycles, building new citadels upon a foundation of forgotten legends and ancient battles reignite the simmering tensions between Kanes and their nemesis. Their charming little realm refines reality, the ability to see both aspects of a person, here and in the Duat (Underworld, Egyptian style), for instance, which has been brilliantly rendered in striking detail.

The chronicles are furnished by same casual irreverence that marked previous mythologies giving Kane-ville an interesting edge with its compelling storytelling and historic dimensions. Each book wraps up the loose ends within the allotted time frame putting off the ‘evil vanquishing part’ for the grand finale. In Book III, Riordan cleverly ties in the Arab Spring with his mythical vision subtly binding both worlds in matching shades of chaos. A legion of endearing characters does join the crusade in Book II, a few get sidelined, however, and feel like window dressing to the quest. The Kanes happily bicker in the voice-over but this constant switching between viewpoints of a 12 and 14-year-old can be tad disorienting. It takes a while to get acclimatised to the Kane universe, their magical heritage, professed destiny and whirlwind itinerary. They get their divine powers from bloodlines and possession and not, as is the case with Olympus, godly parentage, which tends to leave strange side-effects.

Demigod followers might experience a slight drag in Book I; tedium threatens to set in during some chase sequences but the cunningly laid out trail of breadcrumbs linking The Throne of Fire together with The Serpent’s Shadow is too enticing to ignore. Riordan, who retains his number one The New York Times bestselling author crown may not be done with the new recruits. The trilogy spells an end for their quest and though the ominous words on the first page marks it as the last recording, readers could be in for another round of mayhem. Egypt’s path will not cross with Greek/Roman Empire yet, though there are tantalising glimpses of Percy’s world visible in the background. They may be fleeting but these ‘missed connections’ could potentially lead to something bigger. Should that ever happen, having a multi-cultural anti- rogue demon/monster/god fighting force in the arsenal could ‘up the ante’. In May 2013, the much anticipated Carter/Percy crossover finally took place in The Son of Sobek, a short story added to the final book as a bonus feature. Those who have mastered all three mythologies can now ruminate on the possibilities of an alliance between east and the west. Stranger things have happened. The Kane Chronicles brews up an old fashioned blend of exotic sights and amusing scenery and invites the mortal world over for a long overdue reunion. As Sadie might say, “What can possibly go wrong?

Genre: Fantasy novel

Publisher: Disney Hyperion and Puffin Books: 2010-2012

Image from Rick Riordan's Press kit (website)

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