Secrets of a Sun King

Written by Emma Carroll
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

London 1922. After World War I, the country is nearly bankrupt, and the Kaye family are struggling; Lil’s grandad, who is passionate about Egyptian archaeology, is in hospital; Lil herself hates being a scholarship girl at snooty St Kilda’s; and her parents are struggling to make ends meet.

Then Lil finds a parcel addressed to her Grandad from Professor Hanawati, who recently died in suspicious circumstances. It contains an ancient Egyptian canopic jar from King Tutankhamun’s tomb, and Hanawati’s English translation of a deadly curse on whoever removes it – as the professor and Lil’s grandad did when young men. The Professor implores his old friend to restore the jar and break the curse. Things are made more urgent by news of the imminent discovery of Tutankhamun’s long-lost tomb by Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings. It’s a race against time for Lil, her friends Tulip and Oz Mendoza, and their journalist mother.

I enjoyed the way that the story’s twists and turns develop out of Carroll’s well-researched knowledge of the period. For example, Mrs Mendoza is never chosen for top assignments for the Washington Post because of her sex. They travel to Egypt 1922 style: by boat, train to Athens, a smelly cargo boat to Cairo, another train to Luxor, and finally by camel. It all takes days – will the children and Mrs Mendoza be on time?

Interwoven with Lil’s story is a contemporary chronicle of Tutankhamun’s life –

a young man who never wanted to be king – written by his true friend, Lysandra. Carroll also looks sceptically at the parts Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter played in the tomb’s discovery. Were they really the heroes of the hour? Or did they have other, less creditable, agendas? Recommended for children of ten plus.