Book: Shadows on the Nile
Author: Kate Furnivall
Genre: Fiction/Mystery/20th Century Britain/Egypt/Family Stories
Summary: 1912, London, Jessie Kenton hears her young brother, Georgie, scream in the middle of the night and wakes up the next morning to find him gone. Her parents never speak of him again. 1932. Twenty years later, Jessie is haunted by the same nightmare. Her other brother, Timothy, has inexplicably vanished from her parents’ home. Wracked by guilt because of her failure to ever find Georgie, and convinced that the two events must be related, she sets out on a quest to find Timothy. She plunges into a mysterious world of seances and mystics, nebulous clues and Egyptian artifacts. With the help of a dashing and impoverished aristocrat, Sir Montague Chamford, Jessie follows the trail into the alien, swirling sands of the Egyptian desert. Amid the ancient intrigue and blistering heat, a powerful romance sparks between Jessie and Monty. But they must first confront the demons of Jessie’s past - and reveal the dark secrets that threaten not only Timothy’s life but theirs as well. -Penguin, 2013.
This book’s summary captured my interest because it had a plethora of subjects that I’m interested in - Egypt, mysteries, romance etc. It sounded really sinister and I thought it would be almost like an Indiana Jones movie. Unfortunately, the novel didn’t live up to the hype created by its summary.
That’s not to say that the entire book was a waste. The beginning, where Jessie finds Georgie has gone missing, is very well written and establishes a good hook to keep the reader invested. After the time skip, the disappearance of Timothy, Jessie’s other brother, is quickly established. While the plot line is interesting at first, it slowly travels down a path where it becomes less interesting and the reader is not as invested as before. This is in part due to the character of Jessie and also due to Funivall’s decision to heavily insert Sherlock Holmes references into the plot.
Jessie as a character is, in a word, lukewarm. She, as a grown woman, is established as this cold, independent, anti-social, and unattached person. She is ahead of her time - challenging convention and supporting unpopular causes; this includes socialism/worker’s rights and what we would call feminism. Though her background is that of luxury, she redefines herself as someone who supports and identifies with the common man. She lives on her own without any help from her wealthy parents. She is sexually active, but doesn’t believe in commitment. She is very supportive of social justice causes. She is very closed off to the majority of humanity. It’s clear that she only softens when it comes to her brothers and her few, but very close friends. While it’s heavily implied that her parents were and are emotionally abusive, it’s hard to sympathize with her when she makes it easy for the reader to disbelieve in her.
Her romance with Sir Montague is very contrived and almost belittling to Jessie’s character. I understand that people who hide their softer sides under the tough exterior as a defense mechanism exist and they shouldn’t be mocked, but the way their romance develops in the course of the book is without foundation and is cemented in a very quick time span. It’s almost like the Jessie the reader met before Sir Montague comes in is another person. Sure, there’s a brief conflict within Jessie’s mind about how she’s letting him in without much protest, but again, the protest doesn’t really come around that much. All it takes for her to become putty in his arms is his ability to figure her out and understand her as she is. He is able to deduce her weaknesses and her true nature and is able to sympathize with her. In other words, because he understands, she falls in love with him in a snap. On his end, Sir Montague does find traits of Jessie’s admirable and he is physically attracted to her so, the reader does get to see him falling in love with her, but not the other way around. After Jessie falls in love with him and they begin their relationship (all while on the hunt for her brother, by the way), she is not as independent or unattached as before. While this would normally be considered character development, it happens so quickly and without much breathing room so that the changes can happen slowly and naturally, that it makes Jessie fractured as a character. That’s a problem if this is happening to your main character.
As for the Sherlock Holmes plot device, it came off as very pretentious. Furnivall claims at the end of the book that she uses Sherlock Holmes stories as the method of communication between Jessie and Timothy because it is easily recognizable to readers. For me, that’s a sign of laziness. It’s an easy way out. Yes, Sherlock Holmes is very familiar to many people and they would instantly recognize the references (most of them, but not all if they haven’t read the stories), but it shows a weakness in the writer. The way she uses Sherlock Holmes references is, admittedly, clever to a certain extent, but every time Jessie explains the meaning of the clue to Sir Montague and literally names the exact story the clue comes from, it sounds like an advertisement - a book version of movie product placement. I almost imagined Jessie turning to the reader and holding up a book of Sherlock Holmes stories and saying, “Pick up a copy in your local bookstore today!” Could Furnivall created her own unique language for Jessie and Timothy? Yes. Since she didn’t and chose an easily recognizable character to provide the language instead, it implies that she’s not a strong enough writer to come up with her own idea.
I couldn’t keep an invested interest in the book after encountering Jessie’s transformation as a character. If anything, I cared more about her brothers - Timothy and Georgie. The mystery of what happened to Georgie isn’t kept a secret for long - you as the reader are told where and what has happened to him. I found his story much more compelling than Jessie’s. I found Timothy much more compelling than Jessie. The two brothers are more developed and more three-dimensional as characters than Jessie is, in my opinion. I almost wished I spent the whole book with them instead of just half of the book.
The writing style isn’t bad and if you can look past the characterization issues, it’s an easy enough read. It’s a good book for a lazy day or a day at the beach. That being said though, I wouldn’t look for Furnivall’s other work. She has written many novels, but with how she treats her main character, I’m concerned that the same process is repeated.
Overall, Shadows on the Nile is an easy read with a decent plot, but suffers from poor characterization and semi-cheesy plot devices.
I give Shadows on the Nile a C+.
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