THE EYES OF PHARAOH
age range: middle grade (8-12 years)
setting: ancient Egypt
Please tell us about your book.
The Eyes of Pharaoh, set in Egypt in 1177 BC, brings an ancient world to life. When Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt? Then Reya disappears. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time?
What inspired you to write this story?
I’ve always loved foreign countries and ancient cultures, maybe because my family lived in Saudi Arabia when I was in grade school. And ancient Egypt is especially fascinating. I wrote another novel set there, about the six daughters of the Pharaoh Akhenaton and Nefertiti, but it was so complex that I couldn’t quite pull it together. I decided to write another novel set in ancient Egypt, but with a smaller cast of characters and a shorter timeframe. I was able to use much of the research I’d already done, and although writing a mystery has its own challenges, the story worked well.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I spent a couple of weeks in Egypt with my family years ago, so I have both vivid memories and photos of that time. But when it came to writing the novel, I did most of my research in books or by visiting museums. I started this book way back in 2004, so the Internet wasn’t quite the font of information that it is today. I have about a dozen books on ancient Egypt on my bookshelf. I especially like the ones with photos of artifacts or illustrations re-creating people and places, so I can visualize the things I need to describe.
One interesting thing is how tasty ancient Egyptian food sounds – lots of simple, hearty food like vegetable soup and bread, but you know it was all fresh. Reading about their feasts makes my mouth water, and you don’t find too many things that sound yucky-weird – instead it’s “platters piled with joints of meat, bread baked into animal shapes, cheese, nuts, and fresh fruit.” I did a school visit and one of the students brought in “honey cakes” her mother had made from a recipe she found online. They were similar to cornbread served with honey, simple and tasty.
I don’t find historical fiction more challenging than any other writing. I prefer writing about ancient times with people who spoke a different language, so I don’t have to worry about when different English words came into use. And I assume people had the same feelings and motivations we have now – they made their choices based on love, fear, greed, etc. That’s why these books resonate, even if they are about people in a foreign country living centuries or millennia ago.
Unfortunately, historical fiction is hard to sell. Publishers are convinced that buyers don’t really want it. But my first novel, The Well of Sacrifice, is still in print after almost 15 years, and it’s used in many schools when they teach the Maya. Some places and times may be overdone, but I believe a well-written book about a fascinating time will attract readers.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Kids love ancient Egypt! They typically study it in about fourth grade, so The Eyes of Pharaoh works well as supplemental fiction. And there are loads of projects you can do, from art to discussion groups to persuasive letters. I offer lesson plans for download on the “For Teachers” page on my website.
In addition, my book explores themes of national pride and attitudes about foreigners and immigration. These are subtle elements, but the book could be used as a discussion starter.
Chris Eboch’s website, with sample chapters of the books, historical fiction resources for teachers, and tips for writers.
The Well of Sacrifice on Amazon
Kirkus Reviews called The Well of Sacrifice, “[An] engrossing first novel….Eboch crafts an exciting narrative with a richly textured depiction of ancient Mayan society….The novel shines not only for a faithful recreation of an unfamiliar, ancient world, but also for the introduction of a brave, likable and determined heroine.”
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