The Awakening Aten

Written by Aidan K. Morrissey
Review by Katherine Mezzacappa

One of the treasures of the Egyptian Museum in Turin is the contents of the tomb of Kha, architect and overseer to Amenhotep III (Haqwaset) of the 18th Dynasty, and his wife Merit, discovered intact in 1906. The couple were buried with everything needed for the afterlife: clothes, vases, furniture, ointments, kohl. Theban Tomb 8, as it is known, provided part of the inspiration for this, Morrissey’s first novel in a projected series.

The book opens with Kha imprisoned and under imminent threat of execution. Unexpectedly he is freed and gradually builds his career and family life. There is a large cast of characters, but this is really Kha’s story. A modest man of integrity, he is subject to the caprices of his various royal employers and is anxious for his children, elements which give the story a universal, modern appeal within its ancient setting. There is tenderness in the description of the marriage of Kha and Merit, contrasted with the cruelty meted out to traitors. Rule by an absolute monarch is made possible by able and committed administrators, often at odds with a self-serving and suspicious religious hierarchy.

The author’s research is breathtakingly thorough, so much so that his descriptions of the turn of the agricultural year and the battles through which the pharaoh consolidates his power have the immediacy of Egyptian narrative wall paintings. In the notes following the novel, Morrissey explains where he has departed from known fact, and why.

For clarity, a suggestion for a future edition might be the inclusion of a family tree, especially given the Pharaonic practice of incestuous marriage. Those who know little about ancient Egypt could learn much from this novel, and experts may well nod frequently in recognition.