cover image The Shepherd Kings

The Shepherd Kings

Judith Tarr. Forge, $27.95 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86113-1

This 13th historical novel from Tarr (White Mare's Daughter) invites readers into ancient Egypt, then nearly buries them amid excavated details and repetitive sex scenes. As the story begins, the Lower Kingdom of Egypt has been conquered by the Retenu, barbaric, hirsute invaders who have enslaved the local shepherd kings. Despite her status as a slave, spunky Egyptian Iry is chosen by the powerful Horse Goddess (incarnate in an actual horse called the Mare) to be her priestess. Meanwhile, Iry's cousin Kemni's prophetic dreams bring him close to the true king of Egypt, and place him at the forefront of the plot to oust the Retenu. When the Retenu lord Khayan falls in love with Iry, he faces a dilemma: will his allegiance to her, and to the Horse Goddess, overcome his loyalty to his people? Kemni dreams, and then arranges, an alliance between the rebellious Egyptians and the sea power of Crete. Iry and the Mare escape from the Retenu, and the war over Egypt begins. All these events occur very, very slowly. Given to showy anachronisms (trousers are ""all the fashion among the tribes"" ), and lurid sex (""he found her hot secret place and plunged deep""), Tarr's purple and dense prose is heavy going. Despite its historical interest and wealth of events, the narrative is as lively as a mummy. (June)