Rating: 4.5 stars
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Aston and Grant first notice each other in a courtroom where a queue of young offenders are waiting to see the judge for their punishment. For Aston, this his third visit for his misdemeanors, this time for stealing a car; Grant faces the judge for breaking and entering. Both boys escape going to a juvenile detention center; instead, they are sentenced to a year at Stanton School for Boys. However, on their first day, Aston and Grant find themselves in trouble with their World History professor and upon being sent to Mr. Ambrosius’ office, they start a fire by fighting. Ambrosius, more commonly known as “King Arthur Camelot Sword in the Stone Excalibur freaking wizard Merlin,” offers the boys an ultimatum: he can call the police or Aston and Grant can return back in time to procure the artifacts that were collected by Merlin and destroyed in the fire. The boys are flabbergasted, but agree to the time-travel option.
Their first appropriation of the Eye of Ra takes them back to Ancient Egypt and the palace of King Tutankhamen. Aston and Grant not only find themselves speaking the language of the time and dressed appropriately, but also befriending the King whilst fighting the growing attraction between them both.
The Eye of Ra is the first book in Dakota Chase’s Repeating History series and is an angst-free young adult novel, which is also informative and educational.
I really like the fact that Aston is the story’s first-person narrator. His rhetoric is light-hearted and he is able to bring humor to even the most dramatic of situations:
I’d forgotten that we were in a time before deodorant. You know that funky smell gym socks get when they’ve been sitting forgotten in your locker for a couple of weeks? Combine it with the smells of horses, manure, human waste, smoke, food cooking, the mucky, fishy smell of the riverbank, bake it all for hours under the broiling desert sun, and that’s the stench that hit me squarely in the face when we rode into camp. It was almost enough to make me blow chunks.
Aston’s narration is also very direct and I think this adds a fun tone, which means The Eye of Ra is easy to read and yes, Chase’s audience will learn facts about Tutankhamen and the time in which he ruled, but in a diverting fashion.
At the beginning of the novel, neither Aston or Grant are likable characters, though Chase does her best to give the readers information to make the boys relatable. For example, Aston lost his mother when he was ten and is left with residual pain and anger. As the story progresses though, the reader sees the personalities of both boys developing because of their experiences in Egypt. Aston, in particular, changes the way he feels about his own stepmother because of Tut’s reaction when Nefertiti disappears. There is certainly still an immaturity about Aston and Grant, but I am more than twice the age of Chase’s target audience so this may be why I thought this.
One of my favorite aspects of The Eye of Ra is the way in which Chase has cleverly taken an era of history and created a fictional personality for such a principal figure. Tut’s arrogance is apparent, but we appreciate that this is a product of his upbringing — and as Aston points out, he is a king! Tut is also very brave in the way that he leads his men into battle and has a vulnerability that makes him a really enjoyable character to read about.
The romance between Aston and Grant is secondary to the historical element of The Eye of Ra. Their relationship may develop over a course of weeks, not months, but we understand that this is accelerated not only by Grant’s jealousy of Aston’s attraction to Tut, but their drastic circumstances and need for the familiar. The two boys only share kisses, but in my opinion, this feels natural and appropriate to the story. I like the fact that in these situations it is Grant who appears more confident and Aston is the tentative one, even questioning what will happen when they return home:
But how would he feel once we were back at school? When people would look cross-eyed at is for being more than just friends, and when the name-calling started. Heck, neither of us were “out.” Would he want to stay in the closet and keep our being together a secret?
Although none of Chase’s readership will have experienced this mixture of emotions on the eve of a battle with King Tut, I think Aston’s fear about the future with a new partner is universal and engages the reader on another level.
The Eye of Ra is a story I found highly entertaining and I really look forward to book two in the Repeating History series.