Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

Crocodile on the SandbankCrocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I was happy to find this on audio at the library, although I have a paper copy. It’s easier to squeeze in an audiobook sometimes, and I thought this would be an enjoyable listen. I was right. The narrator drew me right into the story. I loved the manner in which Barbara Rosenblatt endowed these characters with a distinctive voice in the audiobook. They were real to me as I listened, and I was quite vocal in my reactions to this book. In other words, I was fully engaged!

At first I thought she made Amelia sound rather superior and stuffy at times, but I came to appreciate the irony she underlined her pompous-sounding narrative with. Amelia seems able to laugh at her own foibles, which is nice, although it doesn’t compromise her strong sense of self. Amelia is a very confident person and this comes through in the narration. She is also very set in her ways and used to being authoritative. It was really interesting seeing her meet her male counterpart, the singular Mr. Radcliff Emerson. While this isn’t a steamy book in the slightest, the sparks did fly. I loved the journey of seeing these two fall in love. I could predict that they would end up together, and this process was highly enjoyable. They met on an equal level, and while they clashed in some ways, it was in the way that makes for a very interesting life together full of good tension and mutual challenge. They will never be bored with each other.

My manner of listening to audiobooks can make things feel rather disjointed, because I can only dedicate an hour or two a night to listening or longer if I am doing something that I can devote my mind to while keeping on task. So it did take a while to see where the story was going. But this is one of those books where you enjoy the trip and don’t worry so much about the destination.

Peters endows this book with very rich atmosphere. I was on the trip to Egypt along with Amelia, Evelyn, Emerson and Walter. Most interesting is how we see Egypt through the eyes of an upper-class educated British female. While I would not in any way classify Amelia as a racist, she does have a gentle sense of superiority that comes through in her tone. I had to decide if that was offensive to me, and ultimately it wasn’t. It was realistic, honestly. I can’t expect a 19th century person to view things through the same 21st century multiculturally-aware viewpoint that I have as a reader. Although risky to compromise some degree of likability with Amelia, it turned out to be a wise artistic decision on Peters' part. While that superiority is there, it is mingled with a sense of awe, respect, and love for Egypt that encompasses its people, even if their ways and culture may strike her as peculiar and lacking to her British sensibilities.

Even though the story is through Amelia’s point of view, I felt I gained a very complex vantage point of its characters. Yes, Amelia tinges their descriptions with her personal views, I still felt like the characters had a realism that went above and beyond her perceptions. Of course, my favorite character other than Amelia was Emerson. What can I say? I love grumpy heroes. Yes, he is a bit of a sexist. I think it’s too much to call him misogynistic, although he can be rather unkind in his descriptions of women. He spoke to me of a man who was quite inexperienced and somewhat awkward with women and tended to mask these feelings of insecurity by projecting his negative opinions on women based on his limited experience with them. That’s why I was glad that Amelia met him head on. A strong, confident woman like her was the only kind of women that he could fall in love with, and the only kind of woman who would put up with him. I also enjoyed Evelyn and Walter. They were a bit more typical for a historical novel, but their characters were very appealing. Evelyn is a sweetheart, and Walter was a genuinely nice man. Evelyn’s journey spoke a little bit about the status of women in 19th century society, and I loved how Amelia raged about the situation and the actions and choices the more conventional-thinking Evelyn was forced into making. Their friendship was another powerful aspect of this book. I can see these women being friends until their dying day.

My favorite scene in the book was when (view spoiler)[Emerson saves Amelia from the snake. It was very romantic to me. You could see very clearly how much Emerson cared for her, even though he was completely inept in expressing it verbally. Of course, I also enjoyed his proposal near the end. Peters understands how to write romantic tension! (hide spoiler)]. While not a romance, the romance was very satisfying. And we get two for the price of one with Evelyn, Amelia’s companion, and Walter, Emerson’s younger brother. And while I didn’t care for him at all, Lucas was also an interesting character and a good foil for the Emersons. The secondary characters don’t quite get as much point of view, but we gain knowledge of them through Amelia’s vivid descriptions.

If there was one aspect that felt a little weaker to me, it was the mystery component and its resolution. It was a bit predictable. I had figured out most of it earlier on, although I almost talked myself out of it. Maybe that was a good twist that I was forced to reevaluate my thought processes and still end up surprised that they were right, with one part I didn’t suspect. The mummy aspect could have been cheesy, but surprisingly it wasn’t. I would say that readers shouldn’t go looking for a hard mystery here, but more of a travelogue, light mystery with romance set in a very vivid historical landscape of late Victorian Egypt. With that expectation, this book is very enjoyable. The characters make this book shine, and I loved the ironic and British-flavored humor. I am glad that I was able to listen to it, and I can see myself doing a reread and continuing the series. This is a very solid 4.5 star read. I recommend it to fans of Victorian set-historical fiction and lighter mystery with a nice dose of romance.

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