Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: Tut by Robin Martin Berard

Title: Tut: The Story of the Pharaoh and the Girl Who Loved Him
Author: Robin Martin Berard
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: iUniverse
Published: 2005
Pages: 196

Rating - 2 out of 10

I came across this awkward-looking book in the young adult section of my library. The very amateur cover, and a look at the author's bio on the back told me that this was a book by a local author here in Florida, published by one of those obscure publishing houses that advertises on pop-up ads online "Publish Your Book Now!"
Normally I would have put it back without a second glance, but this one was about Ancient Egypt. I can never resist that.

This is the story of Jo, a young girl in modern-day Florida who is bright, but thinks it's cooler to slack off in class. She could care less about her history teacher's lessons on Ancient Egypt, until she somehow travels back in time to the era of the pharaoh Tutankhamen. She is found by Nekhare, a young cousin to the king, and taken to the palace under the pretense that she is a long-lost relative with royal blood. As Jo, or Johenamun as she is now called, learns more about life in the ancient land, she begins to think that perhaps she was sent here to stay. Maybe she belongs here. However, drawing off memories of history classes she barely paid attention to, she is aware that the pharaoh Tutankhamen will soon die - and there are plenty of people who would jump at the chance to see him dead. Can Jo change history and save him before it is too late?

Just as the cover tried to tell me, this book was awkward. The writing was painful at best, and the entire thing was clumsily put together.

As a way to draw younger readers (this book is written in a juvenile way, but throws in some small adult themes... making me hesitant to recommend it to, well, anyone) into being interested in Ancient Egypt, this book may be mildly helpful. The author jumps at every chance to describe Egyptian way of life.
I didn't find any errors in her details, which was refreshing. I studied Egypt for eleven years (I know that makes me sound old, but actually it began as a childhood obsession and just never stopped) and I often spot at least a couple small mistakes.
Then again, the author never delved into all that deeply, rather skimming the surface and giving you basic, general facts.

Accuracy aside, the setting of this book never came across to me. And since that was the whole reason I read it (I forgave it for being amateur, I even forgave the whole time travel thing, which normally I wouldn't go near), I was very disappointed.

There is no getting around how very... unprofessional this book is. I'll take the hint from now on. Publishing houses do, in most cases, matter. And none of the big ones are going to be touching this script.

The characters are all lifeless, and the main character of Jo is annoying, as well as very un-realistic. More on that later. Nekhare played a very cliche part, and we are apparently expected to see him as evil just because he wants a harem when he is older and looks at a dancing girl. These things are described as if they are ominous details that are shockingly horrible. I'm sorry, but all this proves is that he is a very normal teenage boy. The author takes his "bad-guy" character a bit further, obviously trying to send a message about abusive boyfriends, and the whole thing is very stilted. I felt that Nekhare was following a script like a bad actor in a poorly directed movie.

The title is mis-leading. "The Story of the Pharaoh and the Girl who Loved Him." It seemed a very intriguing idea.
However, there is no romance story here, so do not be fooled by the deceptive words under the title.
If anyone is attracted to anyone, it is Nekhare and Jo, not Jo and the pharaoh. Tutankhamen seems intrigued by Jo, and in the opinion that she is beautiful and special, but do they ever fall in love? Certainly not.

The author's attempted picture of her heroine was a laughable one. Jo has been in Egypt for a few months, and now she is known through-out the land as a warrior, she knows how to do things that the entire Egyptian army has been training at for years, and she beats absolutely everyone, including the pharaoh. Berard obviously wants to portray Jo as a genius, a very talented and intelligent individual.
We get no picture of this. Jo came across as a slightly spoiled, annoying, stupid teenager. Nowhere in the story would I have called her clever or intelligent.

Some other annoying points of this book were...

- Jo learns hieroglyphs in a few months? And we are not talking about just having a basic understanding of them - she knows them ALL, and is reading and deliberating over Egyptian texts and scrolls. I'm sorry, but this is impossible. What could the author possibly have been thinking?

- As I mentioned above, Jo has unrealistic abilities. Within a few months, she repeatedly beats "the pharaoh's best archers."

- As Jo is on the watch for possible signs that someone may be plotting to murder Tutankhamun, he one day disappears and no one knows where he has gone. You would assume that Jo would be alarmed. Perhaps she is, but she shows her worry by taking a stroll over to an oil factory, where she is taken on a tour, and she tells a man how to make soap. I kept waiting for this to show any scrap of relevance to the plot. But no... it was pointless...

- Cheesy writing pervaded the book. A particular one I winced at was "Jo added - 's name to the list of people she thought might be planning to kill Tut." Ouch.

- Tutankhamen has a staring match with a deadly snake... I was giggling at this scene. Wow, corny.

- The author avoids mentioning that Tutankhamen wife, Ankhesenamun, is his sister. I can understand an author not wishing to describe, or have to be forced to somewhat defend, the incestuous relationships that were highly common in Egyptian royalty. However, she makes a slip-up, which to someone who does not know the facts, would be confusing. Tutankhamen refers to his mother, Kiya in one part of the story. A few chapters later, Ankhesenamun refers to her mother (also Kiya).

- The queen's baby daughter, which in history was born still-born, lives in this book. Though it is never brought up, it appears that the author had Jo change history here, because she helps the queen through her pregnancy and her birth.

- The whole thing at the end of there being an order of time-travelers, who glow purple, seemed extremely forced. I kept rolling my eyes.

- The author did the Buy-My-Next-Book trick! The most unforgivable, cheapest scam that an author can pull is when they end a book with a cliffhanger, in my opinion. This book does just that. We see Jo literally plummeting into danger, and then the book ends. I will certainly never, ever read Berard's next book now. Not that I ever was planning to... But the cliffhanger ending sealed it in stone for me.

This book, all in all, is clumsily written and painfully... well, bad. There were some entertaining bits, but not enough to redeem it. I would advise, for YA books on Ancient Egypt, my favorites - Mara Daughter of the Nile or The Golden Goblet, both by the brilliantly talented Eloise Jarvis McGraw.