T.L. Higley’s historical novels exploring the Seven Wonders of the World takes readers back to ancient Egypt, where the Pharoah Khufu and his Grand Vizier Hemiunu are both remodeling the religious beliefs of their people as they carefully construct the Great Pyramid at Giza (c. 2500) in City of the Dead.
When a serial killer begins decimating Hemi’s close circle of friends, his carefully ordered world begins to crumble around him. With the identify of the killer somehow linked to a day in the past that no one speaks of, the lives of all those Hemi holds dear are in danger until the truth is revealed. Though the second in a series, City of the Dead is a fine stand-alone novel that is completely independent of the first Seven Wonders title, In the Shadow of Colossus.
Rather than depicting Egypt through the life of an anonymous labourer, Higley boldly steps into the story of a well-known historical figure by choosing the Grand Pyramid’s architect – Hemiunu – as her main character. A fascinating man, Higley sketches him as one who models himself after his work; hard as stone, full of precise angles, yet sheltering a hidden interior landscape of emotion. With such a prominent character at the fore, some readers may find it difficult to fully buy in to his shift in spiritual allegiance.
Where Hemi, Khufu, and their series of close friends is vividly portrayed, there is a slight, but noticeable tendency for Higley’s believers to be portrayed as somewhat idealized. Where complex motives and currents of emotion run rampant throughout the noble classes, the People of the One seem slightly ‘touched-up’ in comparison to the full range of emotion found in their counterparts.
Deftly interweaving the threads of suspense, romance, and historical accuracy, Higley’s recreation of ancient Egypt is utterly engrossing. I called upon a great degree of self-discipline to refrain from pulling an all-nighter, and instead broke the novel into two reading sessions. The heady combination of unrequited love and mystery that emanates from the pages of City of the Dead rapidly attaches readers to the characters, and keeps the pages flying.
Our family has been studying ancient history this year, so it is with some degree of certainty that I can attest to the large amounts of research that have been poured into this novel. What is even more amazing is Higley's effortless coverage of a broad span of knowledge-worthy topics without lecturing; the education she offers is carefully integrated within the story’s natural flow.
As I read more of Higley’s work, I’m becoming increasingly entranced with her vision of re-imagining the Seven Wonders within a faith-based context. While I will admit to harboring some feelings of ambivalence following In the Shadow of Colossus, City of the Dead has won me over entirely to Higley’s storytelling. She must surely be amongst the most excellent writers of Christian historical fiction today.