“The Falcon at the Portal” and “He Shall Thunder in the Sky”



by Elizabeth Peters

Published 1999, 2000

The next two books in the Amelia Peabody series find the Emerson family back in Egypt (where they belong!), once again finding their archaeological efforts interrupted by little annoyances like murder.

Overall, these books have been rather lighthearted and fun, but in these two books the stories get a bit – darker.  Part of it is the war.  The Falcon at the Portal is set during the 1911-1912 season, and murmurs of war are already everywhere, especially in northern Africa, where various European countries are all quietly wrestling for control.  By the time we reach He Shall Thunder in the Sky in 1914-1915, war is a reality, and life is a completely different normal than before.

But even beyond the background, the stories themselves are more serious.  Part of it is the continued development of the relationship between Ramses and Nefret, which is a central part of these two books.  Part of it is the reintroduction of Amelia’s dreadful nephew (who is Ramses age or thereabouts), Percy.  Percy is more than a villain.  He is cruel, diabolical, without conscience, and just plain creepy.  And I think that part of it just simply that everyone is growing up.  Ramses, Nefret, and David, who have been children and teenagers, are now adults, and facing adult problems and decisions.

Despite the gap of two years that separates them, these stories are closely entwined; The Falcon at the Portal wraps up its main story, but leaves far more loose ends than the earlier books.  I could hardly wait to start reading He Shall Thunder in the Sky.  The conclusion of that book definitely feels like the end of both of these stories.

A characteristic of these books that I enjoyed (especially in the second of them) was the growing relationship between the younger and older generations as they all learn to relate together as adults.  In particular, Ramses relationship with both of his parents, and the friendship between Nefret and Amelia, are developed as Ramses and Nefret learn that their parents (adopted in Nefret’s case, of course) aren’t as stupid or ridiculous as they have thought in the past, and Emerson and Amelia recognize that Ramses and Nefret are intelligent, independent adults.

On a personal note, I’m 31 now, and this aspect of the story really resonated with me.  I feel like one of the biggest lessons I learned in my 20’s was how to relate to my parents now that all of us are grown-ups.  It’s a whole new balance, almost like they’re different people.  I appreciated the way that Peters addressed that in a realistic way.

Per usual, the narrative was from Amelia’s journals, Ramses’s Manuscript H, and Nefret’s Letter Collection B (to her adopted cousin, Lia).  Peters does an excellent job creating three believable and different voices.  Ramses narrative, especially, has come a long way.  He still writes in the third person, but the writing reflects more of his wry sense of humor.

Overall, this series is continuing to keep me involved.  It can be difficult, I think, to write such a long series involving the same characters.  But as with Ellis Peters’s Cadfael stories, this Peters uses each story to develop her characters more, making them realistic and intriguing.