Ramses The Damned

By Anne Rice
Ramses The Damned: Passion of Cleopatra

Ramses the Great, former pharaoh of Egypt, is reawakened by the elixir of life in Edwardian England. That’s the story, in a nutshell.

Now immortal with his bride-to-be by his side and handsome as all get out for the ladies, he is swept up in a mad and deadly battle of wills and psyches against the once-great Queen Cleopatra. 

Ramses has reawakened Cleopatra with the same perilous elixir whose unworldly force brings the dead back to life. But as these ancient rulers defy one another in their quest to understand the powers of the strange elixir, they are haunted by a mysterious presence even older and more powerful than they themselves, a figure drawn up from the shadowy mists of the past who possesses amazing magical potions and tonics eight millennia old.  No one is running out to Walgreens and finding this stuff!  So who is he/she and what role will he or she play in this new story?  The discovering of the identity may drag on a little long for some readers but the final answer does call into question the very age of the earth and of humanity.  Grab a copy of Carbon Dating for Dummies!

This turns out to be a figure who ruled over an ancient and awesome kingdom stretching from the once-fertile earth of the Sahara to the far reaching corners of the world, a queen with a supreme knowledge of the deepest original origins of the elixir of life. 

She may be the only one who can make known to Ramses and Cleopatra the key to their immortality–and the secrets of the miraculous, unknowable, endless expanse of the universe.  Why does the reader care?  Because Rice and Rice make us care in their clever writing!

So if Ramses and Cleopatra are back from the dead, and cannot die again, but presumably cannot rule their respective kingdoms either, what are they to do?

This thirty year in the making re-birth, if you will, of Ramses with Cleopatra thrown in for good measure is a read that could only come from the minds of Anne Rice and Christopher Rice (after all you couldn’t grow up with Anne for a mother and not have a little penchant for the macabre, right?

Ramses the Great, former pharaoh of Egypt (and let’s not forget dead guy) became an immortal after drinking the elixir of life. In his lifetime, Ramses led the Egyptian army against several enemies including the Hittites, Syrians, Libyans, and Nubians.  

But now, in his afterlife back on earth, he is engaged and living in Edwardian England with his finance Julie. Dear Julie has changed recently, and no one seems to know why her eyes are now bright blue.  As the writers would have it, Julie is not wearing iris tinted contact lenses!

Ramses and his immortal finance are not the only immortals wandering the British countryside – Cleopatra was resurrected when Ramses gave her the elixir, but something is not quite right with her. She is having some fuzzy issues with her memory and a romance writer who has been having visions her entire life is suddenly experiencing what Cleopatra experiences. There are a couple more ancient characters in this book which makes it a little bit like a history lesson from a most beloved professor who twines truth with speculation to make the forgettable suddenly unforgettable.  The one which was my favorite – the ancient Queen who has the garden, the elixir, potions and last but not least a pet cat. 

However, reader be cautioned.  The interesting characters don’t simply make for a great read.

This book was difficult to get into. The Author’s took a lot of precious time to build their story and I found myself losing interest and turning from time to time to other books to read. This book didn’t really pick up for me until over halfway through – then things started to get interesting. That is when the book earned its 3.5 stars from me. There is a lot going on in this book – present lovers, past lovers, queens, Pharaohs, back-stabbing, attempts to find the elixir, those with the elixir, conflict death, revenge, the whole enchilada. 

Anne Rice and her son Christopher wrote this book together. I wish the beginning would have had more action or more “something” because the last part of the book delivered. 

There is a hump that one needs to get over in reading this book – the slow beginning.  Now that I have finished the read and put the book on a shelf I have to say climbing the hump was well worth it.  

I did not like the beginning of this Anne Rice book at all, the writing had a very old-fashioned, stilted feel at first and I thought I had make a huge mistake to pick up Rice again after such a long time. In fact I was beginning to worry that Rice had joined forces with son Chris because she had lost the touch that made her early books so chilling and so ripe for movie adaptation.  But once Ramses returned, the story moved more smoothly for me.

The alternating POVs of the various main characters made it lively and added a nice tension to the story. The brief recaps of the previous book’s plot were nicely done and fitted in well.  After all, Ramses has been silent (save for his movie career or course) for three decades!

It took me a bit to like the story, but especially the unfolding tale of Sibyl made me want to continue. Some nice little twists in an overall predictable plot. Enough suspense and mystery to make me fear for some of the characters even if only briefly.

Unfortunately, once the main plot had been resolved, the last third of the book became a rambling discourse of the meaning of life, souls, heaven and hell that I could have done without. I was also not entirely satisfied with the way the various storylines were resolved. The happy-for-now ending of the main couple was to be expected, but Sibyl’s story petered out rather listlessly. Lots of potential for at least three more books. That I am unlikely to pick up. 

In this slick sequel to The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned (1989), immortals gifted with virtual indestructibility scheme as nastily against one another as the similarly endowed characters in Anne Rice’s celebrated Vampire Chronicles. Having imbibed a life-prolonging elixir, pharaoh Ramses the Great is still alive in 1914, when he poses as the dashing Reginald Ramsey and takes his fiancé, Julie Stratford, on a tour through England and other interesting and colorful locales. The resurrected corpse of the former empress Cleopatra is likewise wandering the globe. Separately, Cleopatra’s soul has been reincarnated in Sybil Parker, an American writer of historical romances that are patterned unconsciously on events from the lives of the immortals (and that read much like this novel). Then the ancient empress Bektaten, who first discovered the immortality elixir, enters the picture, along with her conniving former prime minister, Saqnos, who for centuries has been trying to wheedle the formula out of her. Cleopatra, Ramses, and Saqnos vie against one another and Bektaten in their quest to understand and control the magical potion. In their first literary collaboration, the Rices, mother and son, configure these subplots into an entertaining soap opera replete with romantic alliances, betrayals, and ends left tantalizingly loose as grist for sequels. Bits and pieces of each author’s signature styles can be found throughout the story.  Fans of both authors’ work will enjoy this one and agree with Sybil’s observation that “stories of romance and adventure and magic helped us to imagine a better world into being.”

The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned is my favorite of all things Anne Rice. For almost thirty years, I have loved that novel. The elegance and horror that exist side by side on those pages embodies everything I look for in a book. In no way is it the perfect example of any particular writing style or genre; instead it is a spectacular balance of the greatness that is needed to create a classical work of prose that will withstand the test of time and be remembered in its own right, not as a leader in any time period, setting, or literary style.

Ramses the Damned was one of the first audio books I ever listened to as a much younger reader and therefore I learned to enjoy hearing a favorite voice while reading much like one hears Morgan Freeman when reading Alex Cross novels or sees a cherry pie cooling on a windowsill when smelling cherries.

With that kind of emotionally charged memory to bring to this new book, you can only begin to imagine how ecstatic I was to learn that Rice was reviving these characters for a new release titled Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra. This was to be a dream come true, literally (pun intended).

The added bonus here is that she involved her son, Christopher Rice, in the penning of this tale. An exceptional author in his own right, he has written a multitude of books that I have enjoyed, ever since reading Snow Garden at the turn of the century. His intimate knowledge of his mother’s work undoubtedly made him the perfect collaborator on this project. I will admit the sense of the story is different, more evolved. This could be attributed to the length of time between novels or the addition of another writer. Either way, the results speak for themselves. Allow me to elaborate.

When last we left the characters of the original novel, we saw Ramses and the newly immortal Julie Stratford preparing to leave Egypt after learning of the supposed demise of the now immortal Cleopatra. Heartbroken Alex, once engaged to Julie but now hopelessly in love with the once-dead Egyptian queen, was left with no true knowledge of the events. His father, Elliott, a man of unshakeable faith and intelligence, had not only discovered Ramses’ secret of eternal life, but also helped nurture Cleopatra back to a semblance of sanity. His reward from Ramses was the elixir that would restore his vitality and make him as indestructible as Ramses and Julie. The story ended with no tales to unravel, no stones left unturned. For greedy fans such as myself, this was never enough. The very few times I was privileged enough to meet Anne Rice, I inquired about a sequel, or at least attempted to as she was always extremely busy at signings. Time passed, as it always does, and I eventually let go of any hope of a sequel. That is until now!

The world of Ramses and company opens up far beyond that of Egypt and London in this follow-up tale. Hot on the heels of the first novel, we see that our lovely couple has taken to traveling and are now engaged to be married. Oddly enough, Julie’s first fiancé, Alex along with his mother, has offered to host the official engagement party for the two. Alex, however, has begun to develop more as a character. Instead of the simpering and overtly calm persona he delivered in the first book, this Alex has matured and aged well. He recognizes the irregularities in the events that occurred and calls them out on it, ensuring they know he is far wiser than first written in the original book. This was a definite plus for me as I always loathed his one-dimensional presentation. In this newest story, he is a changed man; possibly due to the heartbreaks he endured prior.

As news of the possibility of Cleopatra surviving the horrid explosion that should have claimed her life reaches the ears of our protagonists, we are also introduced to other characters and groups. It seems that, unbeknownst to Ramses, other immortals have existed far longer than he. In fact, some of them have developed other formulas to mimic the effects that immortalized them all, though some have varied effects on longevity. As plans unfold and sides are taken, we bear witness to a grudge that is millennia old. Hatred of that sort knows no bounds and suffers no interference when vengeance is at hand. Those once friends become enemies and those who opposed one another find themselves bound to fight on the same side. As alliances form, some debts are accrued while others are forgiven.

There is more than enough action for even the most die-hard fan. In fact, at times, one has to remember that this is a fight between immortals. I was afraid at first that a few scenes were mimicking another book by Rice, The Queen of the Damned. But it was obvious quickly that this was far from the truth. Personalities were explored in this story, some almost to the point of belaboring, but all in all the characters were deepened, explored, and grew as the book progressed. I expect another from the Rice family. And I would prefer it sooner rather than later as I cannot imagine waiting another 20-plus years for a follow-up story.

If you have ever liked an Anne Rice book or if the original tale was one you enjoyed, then buy this book. Go out right now and purchase it. I urge you to dive in, with both feet, and just read. You cannot imagine how fast I consumed this or how it almost consumed me. And when you are done, you will probably want to pick up a copy for a friend or family member before the holidays are here. 

Greg J. Gardner
Breakout author of Black Friday – An American Jihad
Banner Elk, North Carolina

About the author

Breakout author of Black Friday - An American Jihad.

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