2.5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
I’m not really sure what category to put The Age of Ra in. The story is basically what I would think of as military sci-fi, and it has quite a few elements of that type. That said, it also has an active sentient Egyptian pantheon that powers most of the weapons. I suppose I will just call it both fantasy and military sci-fi and move on. The story isn’t great, as is common with military sci-fi. There’s a lot of exciting fighting, which is fairly well done, but it is described in that genre’s typically detached, removed manner that lessens the excitement somewhat. The characters aren’t great either. The protagonist is a bit flat, and the love interest is barely there. I don’t hold any particular fascination with the Egyptian pantheon of gods, and someone who does might have a lot more interest here, as they are portrayed very well for their traditional strange personalities from what I can remember. Everything comes together in this book fairly well, but the elements it is composed of just aren’t good or interesting enough for me to recommend the book overall.
Lt. David Westwynter, a British soldier, is abandoned for dead behind enemy lines. Through a series of harrowing trials, he eventually makes his way to war-torn Egypt, the only country not ruled by priests that commune with Egyptian deities to get their orders. In Egypt, he encounters an enigmatic figure known only as The Lightbringer who seeks to overthrow the gods themselves with his army. Intrigued by this concept, David must fight both against unjust rule by uncaring gods, but also to understand the labyrinthine intrigues that underlie the cause he is fighting for.
I really like British sci-fi authors in general, but there seems to be a common weakness of being somewhat too aloof from their characters and making their characters too cold. This is very prevalent in The Age of Ra. The author seems almost disinterested in the protagonist who, himself is disinterested in everything. It is very hard to actually care about characters that are this removed from any sort of emotional content. A really fascinating story can compensate for this lack of emotional connection, but The Age of Ra is basically military sci-fi, and the protagonist just moves around from one interchangeable place to another fighting people or setting up where he’s going to go fight next.
The use of the Egyptian pantheon doesn’t really help things. The depiction of the gods is true to mythological sources from what I remember, which is very admirable on the part of the author, but the mythology doesn’t have particularly nuanced or interesting characters, which is bad for the story. It doesn’t help that it really isn’t that well defined what exactly the gods can do in the setting, so you don’t really know if they can just shoot lighting or drop meteors or something on anyone that dislike.
You end up with a story that is well written but isn’t particularly interesting, with non-compelling characters ruled by a pantheon that could do pretty much anything for inscrutable reasons. There aren’t any huge interventions in the story by the gods, but the fact that they are always hanging over everything with the potential to do so greatly decreases any tension the author was trying to create. I wouldn’t say that The Age of Ra is a bad book; it just isn’t interesting enough to deserve a recommendation.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
I think for military sci-fi, I’d prefer something without the weird mythological elements that focuses on straight up action and violence to play to the genre’s real strengths, like David Gunn’s Death’s Head series, starting with Death’s Head.