The Age of Ra by James Lovegrove

Confession time: I finished this, but only because I skimmed the largest part of the remaining 80% I had left and read the chapters dealing with the gods to confirm what I already suspected. So with this in mind, I offer this review as a warning to those who might come across this. This review is going to be harsh. But it needs to be, partly because it’ll be cathartic to do so. I can’t in good conscience assume the author is actually proud of this steaming pile of excrement.  And yet, there’s an entire series of these books, so that just leaves me scratching my head.  Maybe it’s more fun to write than it is to read.

Lazy is a term that comes to mind on this one, but that’s too easy. The world building in this is virtually non-existent, and what little he attempted is pathetic and trite. I’ll even go so far as to say it’s complete nonsense.

I could perhaps call this book shameful in that Lovegrove wrote so much bull butter with the expectation of so much promise. But maybe the expectation is my fault. As much as I enjoy mythology, I am also a Stargate fan. The biggest question someone could ask of any version of that franchise is, “What if instead of aliens, the REAL Egyptian gods came back to earth?” It’s a concept you just don’t see often, which is why I was so overjoyed to come across this book in the first place. Well, the book sort of answers that question, but the result is so disappointingly banal that I’m actually tempted to dig up the version of this same story I wrote in the 6th grade (years before Stargate) and send it to both author and publisher just to make the point. A little spit and polish, I’m sure it’ll be a better read than this. For that matter, I’ve had bad GMs run better stories than this in their poor excuses for RPG entertainment. I’m embarrassed that, based on the concept and the cover art, I bought this and 2 others in the series, The Age of Zeus, and The Age of Odin. Even though I’m not the type to resell books, I see all three of these going to the used book store very soon, though part of me thinks I should spare some other poor soul the time and money.

Here’s the skinny, and apologies for those who don’t want spoilers as there are a few.

Even though the book is over 100 years in our future, it feels like it happens tomorrow. Even though all of the gods of all the pantheons have engaged in this all-consuming war (which we don’t get to see), the earth is somehow unscathed. Cities are standing, and societies are still thriving pretty much as they do our our own version of the world. Whole countries are STILL identified by the same borders we identify when the book was written, even though some of those borders are different now for a lot less reason. Instead of a president, the United States has a Pastor-President. What?! And apparently our allies are still the same, now identified through alliances with the friendlier gods, and the enemy territories are conveniently controlled now by the more evil gods. Did you catch that? Apparently the Egyptian gods, after wiping the floor with everyone and re-subjugating the world decided to break it into factions and start up their own private wars all over again. And you thought the Olympians were petty. To the author’s credit, these battle lines are straight out of The Book of the Dead, but anyone who’s ever read even the Wiki entries on these deities knows the “secrets” that they’re presumably holding from each other. It’s a huge conceit on the author’s part that perhaps the audience is dumber than a bag of hammers, and that perhaps these powerful entities are even more so. I won’t even begin to touch the juvenile writing of the human characters. Last I checked, this book was written for adults, but I’ve seen some seriously crackpot YA novels that are better written than this mess. But it’s ok for these humans to be written badly because they’re also badly armed. Crook and flail, really? Or my personal favorite, the “god-rods,” which are presumably these energy weapons blessed with the gods’ color-coded mojo, and yet everyone who uses them inexplicably has the marksmanship of the average Imperial stormtrooper. Seriously, hold down the fire button and cut a 180 degree arc in front of you, turning every target into fine red mist. It’s just not that difficult! But as the main character can’t even shoot HIMSELF in the head (he tried and hit a CAMEL instead!), we have to suffer with him through the rest of the book. And now you know why I skimmed ahead.

As to the gods themselves… They don’t have a lot to do, which may or may not be a blessing in disguise. For something of this level of concept, I’d say that’s cowardly, but then, I think the way this whole book is written is somewhat cowardly. Some of the gods are written acceptably, but others really could have used some upgrades. Many of the lesser ones come across as playground bullies. Others could have been used at all. Ra comes across rather kindly, which is a surprise in and of itself. Everything I’ve ever read has him characterized as unrelenting, even on his good days. Isis and Osiris are written fairly well, but they don’t do much. Nephthys is depressingly whiny at times, but otherwise not bad. Set… as evil and vicious as he should be. I think Lovegrove nearly forgot about Bast as she’s pretty much background dressing despite being one of Ra’s great fighting protectors in the myths. She gets the days off now since Set is paying penance by defending against Apophis, so she’s relaxing in most of her scenes.  Good on her.  It’s not easy being Bast, so she deserves a rest. And if Ra really DID give a crap about wiping out this “Lightbringer” character (yeah, they used that), just unleash Sekhmet and call it a day. It should be noted that neither Hathor nor Sekhmet are anywhere to be seen, the two goddesses having a Jekyll and Hyde kind of disposition about them. Very convenient, their absences.  It’s like Lovegrove knew the story would be wrapped up the moment they showed up.

Lightbringer is this rebel leader who leads “Freegypt” (LOVE these stupid names!), the only place the gods haven’t conquered. And one has to immediately question why or how that was allowed to happen at all. I just have to say it, spoiler though it may be. Created / protected by one of the Egyptian gods or not, if the Egyptian pantheon was able to take out all of the other gods, any one or two of them should be able to pick off Lightbringer, and the ones that get along probably should have long before the story gets going. Lightbringer, of course, is a veiled reference to Lucifer, often lazily equated with Set for being fundamentally evil and rebelling against their Lord Most High. Again, the author makes these conceits to get the story to work, and it just doesn’t because it’s so obvious as to be insulting.

So much wasted potential, so little respect for the reader. My only consolation is that it likely took more time to write it than I did to read and review it.

1 star

age-of-ra