I love historical novels - as a reader and as a writer. Recently I read two excellent books - both adult fiction. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is about early Canaanite life and the narrator is Dinah, the only daughter of the Tribe of Jacob. It has a wonderful historical and Biblical context while presenting a well-known story from a little-told point of view. You can read my review of this title here at The Reading Stack. Another favourite is Bones of the Hills (The Conqueror Series Book 3) by Conn Iggulden. This is the story of Genghis Khan and wow, I wish I wrote it!
But what about junior historical fiction? One of my all-time favorites is Pharaoh: The Boy Who Conquered the Nile by Jackie French. Tonight I'm going to review it, even though I read it a few years ago, for two still very important reasons. First I love ancient Egypt. My first year of work I saved every dollar possible so I could go to Egypt and touch the pyramids. I admire Pharaoh as a new take on Ancient Egypt. It's not easy to find a new angle in a setting done so often and so well - but Jackie French has. And secondly, this novel taught me a lot about structuring action. When I was first writing, I would take novels where I felt the action was well done, like the battle scenes in Pharaoh, and transcribe the beginning paragraph, strip the action and keep the end paragraph. Then I would write my own version of the action in between and compare it to the original to see what else I could or should have done. So you could say Pharaoh was one of my early writing text books.
Pharaoh by Jackie French. Junior Historical Fiction. Harper Collins Paperback rrp $15.99 Australian
This is a marvellous piece of writing and an excellent history resource. There are many reasons to recommend Pharaoh, but perhaps most important of all, it is a wonderful story of adventure and conquest.
Pharaoh is set in 3000BC, in an Egypt most readers will find unfamiliar but fascinating, long before the time of the pyramids, hieroglyphics and mummies. Prince Narmer is destined to rule Thinis, the greatest city on the Nile. Beloved by all, talented and handsome, he is ‘the Golden One’. His life is perfect until his jealous elder brother, Hawk, lures him into the path of a crocodile. Narmer survives the attack, but he now physically disfigured, he is no longer considered fit to rule.
The timely appearance of the Sumerian Trader and his young companion Nitho provides Narmer with expert medical help and a future. He leaves Egypt to travel with them, journeying through Punt and on to Ur, where he finds a new home as the Trader’s adopted son.
When the opportunity to return to Thinis arises, Narmer finds the city in ruin, defeated by flood, Hawk’s ineffectual leadership and raids from the nearby Yebu people. Narmer rallies support for his brother and helps lead an attack on the Yebu city. When Hawk is killed in combat, the final victory sees Narmer acclaimed as Pharaoh. The historical unification of Egypt has begun.
Narmer was a real person, the man behind the famous relic, Narmer’s Plate. However, little is recorded about his early life. Jackie French has taken the known and mixed it with the probable to produce a credible account of what might have been.
Best suited to readers 10 – 14 years, Pharaoh is a valuable teaching resource. The book contains a comprehensive appendix of historical reference and background information, including a timeline and recipes! If you are parent of a Year 7 child who needs a historical novel for ancient history (as I once was), this would be an excellent choice.