Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review: CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK by Elizabeth Peters

crocodile on the sandbank cover

Having just inherited a large estate after the death of her father, Amelia Peabody decides to indulge herself with an extended around-the-world vacation. Along the way, she rescues a younger woman named Evelyn who's been abandoned in Italy by a fortune hunter. Together, they travel through Egypt fending off a mysterious mummy and helping a pair of archaeologists named Walter and Radcliffe Emerson.

So the plot to Crocodile on the Sandbank is basically the same as Pride & Prejudice, only instead of two wealthy friends rescuing two sisters from genteel poverty, two wealthy women friends rescue two brothers from genteel poverty so they can dig in Egypt to their hearts' content. And there's a mummy. If anyone can take Jane Austen and create something completely original, it's Elizabeth Peters—I love the way she turned traditional romance tropes upside down. Evelyn's rescue, for example: in a typical romance, it would be the hero who saves the damsel in distress and insists on buying her clothes and sweeping her off to some exotic foreign country. In Crocodile on the Sandbank, it's Amelia; and the two become friends, not lovers. I also liked the fact that she and Evelyn are the independently wealthy characters in this scenario while the Emersons are in need of money (see my review of The Bridge).

I actually read Crocodile on the Sandbank when I was a teenager, and to be honest I didn't like it. As an adult, I can see why: Amelia is exactly the type of personality that would have annoyed the crap out of me as a teen. She takes over everything, thinks she's always right, and she is very much a nineteenth-century British colonialist, swooping in to save the ignorant natives from their primitive medicines and beliefs. She can be kind of insufferable some most of the time. As an adult, though, I actually found Amelia to be pretty awesome. Yes, Amelia can be annoying, but she also gets shit done. And while she might not be polite, she is genuine and kind. Amelia is a fantastic, well-rounded character who's totally of her time period, flaws and all, yet still sympathetic.

As for the other characters, Evelyn wasn't as annoying as I remember her being, either. She's not as take-charge as Amelia is, but she also isn't wishy-washy and in her own way is just as independent as her friend—she just has better social skills. I honestly didn't remember anything about Walter or Lucian. As for Emerson... well, who can resist someone that grumpy? He's like if Dr. House was an archaeologist.

I also listened to this on audiobook, narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. I've listened to audiobooks narrated by Rosenblat before (a few of the Mary Russell mysteries, for instance), and she was good in those. But Rosenblat + Amelia Peabody is like magic! She embodies the character of Amelia and brings so much humor and depth to the story. It was a joy listening to her narrate.

I'm glad I decided to give Crocodile on the Sandbank another shot. The mystery plot's kind of weak—it's obvious who the mummy is from the beginning—but the book isn't really about the mystery, it's about British Egyptology in the Victorian era and a woman who finds her place in the world. Definitely a must-read, especially for those of you who enjoy listening to audiobooks.

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