Welcome to the Flame Tree Press blog tour for Tomb of Gods! My thanks to the author, publisher, and Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate. Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour listed below!
In 1935, British archaeologists vanished inside an Egyptian cave. A year later, one man returned covered in mysterious scars.
Egyptologist Imogen Riley desperately wants to know what happened to the ill-fated expedition led by her grandfather. On a quest for answers, she joins a team of archeologists and soldiers in Egypt. Inside a mountain tomb, they’ve found a technologically advanced relic and a maze of tunnels. Dr. Nathan Trummel believes this tomb leads to the most guarded secrets of the pharaohs. When the explorers venture deep into the caves, they discover a hidden world of wonder and terror.
- Title: Tomb of Gods
- Series: Fiction Without Frontiers
- Author: Brian Moreland
- Cover Artist: Flame Tree Studio and Nik Keevil
- Publisher: Flame Tree Press
- ISBN: 1787584143
- Publication Date: May 21, 2020
I’d like to thank Flame Tree Press and Anne Cater for providing an advance copy via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration.
Tomb of Gods is an ambitious, suspenseful, and thought-provoking blend of horror and science fiction. Though I had some issues with it, overall it’s a compelling story with well-drawn characters and some truly frightening horror scenes. My reviews typically contain as few spoilers as possible, but I can’t properly discuss this book without delving into some of the plot details, so fair warning: spoilers ahead.
Primarily set on an archeological dig in Egypt in 1936, Tomb of Gods is Stargate meets the Divine Comedy, with a small dash of Cube for good measure. Imogen Riley is an Egyptologist whose missing grandfather has returned as the sole survivor of a dig in a mysterious cave. He is covered in scars depicting arcane symbols and often talks to the air, claiming that he is conversing with the gods. Determined to find out what happened to her grandfather and what he really found in the cave, Imogen returns to the site with a large group of mercenaries, local workers, and fellow archaeologists. Deaths and disappearances plague the camp, and finally a small group—including Imogen and Nathan Trummel, the head of the dig and Imogen’s former lover—goes deep into the cave to find out what lurks there.
When I hit the 10% mark, I had the sinking feeling that the mystery behind the tomb was alien in origin. When I turned out to be right, I was pretty disappointed. The alien intervention theory of Egyptian history is one that I find boring and clichéd, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book handled it in an interesting, thought-provoking way. It made me rethink my view of that trope and helped me understand the appeal of the aliens-as-gods theory. After all, what is a god but a more powerful, more intelligent being that inspires awe and terror in humans?
Terror is something that the book has in ample supply. As the explorers descend further into the depths of the tomb, they enter increasingly traumatic levels of hell that exploit their darkest fears and secrets. Author Brian Moreland focuses a lot on characterization, giving each of his large cast of characters a unique backstory and motivations. That characterization informs the tortures that the characters face in the levels of the tomb; most of the time this is a strength of the book, since knowing the characters so deeply makes the terrors they face much more real and frightening to the reader, but occasionally the story drags as Moreland repeats himself and goes in circles. This doesn’t happen often, though, which is impressive given the large cast of characters and the complexity of their traumas. I appreciated the attention to characterization, and Moreland did a good job of relaying a lot of information about Egyptian mythology in an organic way without taking long exposition breaks.
Based on a few comments early in the book, I had hoped that it was going to be a critique of white imperialism’s pillaging of non-white cultures. Unfortunately, that never really materialized. For example, when the group finds a huge mural, Trummel wants to destroy it to keep going further into the tunnels behind the wall. Imogen objects because it’s “bad science” to destroy something of such artistic and historical significance, but Trummel and his soldiers destroy it anyway. There are a lot of reasons not to destroy another culture’s religious art, and the fact that it’s “bad science” is pretty far down that list. The book never really addresses the fact that everyone on the dig feels entitled to steal another culture’s artifacts and take them back to a British museum.
One of my biggest problems with the book was its questionable moral calculus. I had hoped that the gods would punish Trummel more than they did, since he’s one of the worst offenders in the book: he treats the local workers like cattle, he never shows any concern for the deaths of the people under his care, and he thinks he has an innate right to steal from other cultures due to his perceived superiority. However, after learning a tiny bit of “humility” due to some divine punishment (the nature of which was admittedly a philosophically intriguing moment in the novel), Trummel is treated to a much more merciful fate than a fellow explorer whose only sin was defending himself as a child against an abuser. Based on the fates of the characters and their respective journeys of the soul, Moreland seems to be saying that the biggest sin is carrying guilt around rather than forgiving yourself (or never feeling the need for forgiveness in the first place), or that as long as you’ve never actually killed anyone you’re basically a good person, which struck me as problematic and overly simplistic.
Still, I enjoyed Tomb of Gods and appreciated its ambitious approach to plot and characterization. It was an enjoyable read with a unique approach to some well-worn genre tropes. The horror was chilling, and I had a hard time putting the book down once I started it. Brian Moreland puts a great deal of care into his characters and his internal mythology, and he can write a spine-tingling story.
I give this book 3 out of 5 coffins.