Set in 1922, ‘Secrets of a Sun King’ is a fascinating historical story which cleverly uses the world’s fascination with Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb as its backdrop. The Great War is over, leaving the country relieved, but counting the heavy cost of the conflict. Social traditions and gender roles are being challenged and life will never be the same.
Thirteen year old Lilian, like much of the nation, avidly follows Carter’s search for the Boy King’s tomb, inspired by the fact that her Grandfather used to be an archaeologist. When her grandfather falls ill, Lil intercepts a mysterious parcel addressed to him, sent by a famous Egyptologist, Professor Hanawati - who has been found dead. Lil decides she must fulfil the Professor’s plea and return the contents of the parcel to its tomb on her grandfather’s behalf. A chance encounter at the British Museum leads to the opportunity for a trip to Egypt with Tulip and Oz Mendoza, and their journalist mother and Lil is off on the adventure of a lifetime.
Emma Carroll writes excellent historical fiction, carefully researched and richly written. The discovery of the boy king’s tomb had the world gripped, but there was far more going on than the image presented to the press. The sense of entitlement and ownership felt by the archaeologists plundering Egypt’s tombs is cleverly questioned throughout the story whilst personal scars left by the war are still raw as society and everyone’s place in it changes. Tutankhamun’s own story- that of the child behind the Pharaoh- is also explored through a scroll the children find, questioning how the young king died and the life he led.
Characterisation is strong throughout the story. Lil, the scholarship girl who struggles to fit in, bold and daring Tulip who hides secrets, the sun king himself- each is carefully drawn and filled with life. All the threads are skilfully pulled together, creating a satisfying story to be enjoyed.
An excellent book for those children at the moving on stage, ‘Secrets of a Sun King’ could encourage budding Egyptologists to discover more about Tutankhamun’s life- and death- and the world he lived in.
Secrets of a Sun King Emma Carroll
Faber and Faber ISBN: 978-0571328499