Set in 1884, this is the first installment in what has become a beloved bestselling series. At thirty-two, strong-willed Amelia Peabody, a self-proclaimed spinster, decides to use her ample inheritance to indulge her passion, Egyptology. On her way to Egypt, Amelia encounters a young woman named Evelyn Barton-Forbes. The two become fast friends and travel on together, encountering mysteries, missing mummies, and Radcliffe Emerson, a dashing and opinionated archaeologist who doesn’t need a woman’s help — or so he thinks.
When Gail Carriger’s Soulless first came out, I heard the Amelia Peabody series mentioned frequently as a series similar in spirit and tone. (The Crocodile on the Sandbank in the first installment in that voluminous series from Elizabeth Peters – it spans 20 books and three decades.) There are undeniably qualities shared by Carriger’s leading lady, Alexia Tarabotti, and Amelia Peabody: both ladies are frank spinsters with a keen sense of irony; both are unabashedly (and a tad pompously) intellectual, and both like to poke people with a parasol if they prove too troublesome.
Alright, I admit it – reading Gail Carriger first has given me an unavoidable bias towards the Parasol Protectorate. I was constantly comparing them as I read Crocodile on the Sandbank, and once you’ve read Victorian deliciousness in a world of vampires, werewolves, dirigibles and automatons, plain old crumbling Egyptian ruins feel, well, a tad dull. It’s like the Mummy movies if you took out the mummy. And oddly enough, even though Carriger’s Victorian society is set in an alternate history, it still feels more authentic to the time period, in both social and costume detail.
What you will find in Peters’ series is an unabashed old fashioned romance with just a dab of mystery and plenty of Egyptian flavor. Archaeology is always fun, and Elizabeth Peters (one of the pen names of Barbara Mertz, an Egyptologist) has a love of her subject matter that permeates this book – she also has a good time making sly fun of the science and methodology of the period via her characters. Plus there’s plenty of Egyptian sightseeing to enjoy.
The heart of this book, and where it shines, is in its character based romance. Every character in this book has a strong personality. Amelia quickly squares off with Emerson, an irascible misanthropic archaeologist with whom she spends most of the book going toe to toe, which is a ridiculous amount of fun. Amelia’s companion, Evelyn, is just as distinct, with her quiet determination, her sense of honor, and her stubborn refusal to accept the burgeoning romance between herself and Emerson’s brother. It is immensely satisfying – and wonderfully refreshing – to see romance built on the attraction of PERSONALITIES.
Overall I did find the plot to be a bit weak. This book is billed as a cozy mystery, but there wasn’t much mystery to it – I knew who the villain was pretty much the whole time. It’s so fun to spend time with these characters I think most people won’t mind, but I found myself doing the mental equivalent of fidgeting. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance – Austen I adore – it’s just that there wasn’t enough to this story to satisfy me (and suddenly I’m realizing how much plot Austen’s books actually have). Hopefully the mysteries get more challenging as this series continues.
In the end, this is a light, fun book – a mild adventure in ancient Egypt with a fine set of characters and plenty of chemistry. Definitely one for the romance fans.
Byrt Grade: A-/B+
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
There is absolutely nothing about this book that did not work for me, and indeed, there are so many memorable lines and incidents that kept me dog-earning pages and laughing out loud. From Amelia’s insistence that no “independent, intelligent female [should] choose to subject herself to the whims and tyrannies of a husband,” to her compulsive meddling in everyone else’s business (the world merely needs to be managed better, after all), to her trusty steel-shafted parasol and feminine vanity over a crimson satin dress, I adored Amelia from the first page of the book…Adventure, mystery, high drama, romance, and an exciting chronicle of Egyptian and European history at the turn of the 20th century, Crocodile on the Sandbank launches a compulsively entertaining, informative, and engaging Cozy Mystery series
If you are looking for a hard-core mystery storyline, then Crocodile on the Sandbank is probably not going to be the book you reach for (I was able to figure out the whodunit part well before the end of the book). Good thing then that I don’t have a deep, abiding love for all things mystery to prevent me from enjoying this book, eh? If you are after a light, fun, adventurous romp, then Crocodile on the Sandbank might just be what you are looking for.