Move over, vampires—it’s time for mummies to take the spotlight! This week, Anne Rice is back with the long-awaited sequel to her 1989 book The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned. Twenty-eight years is a long time to wait for a sequel, but was it worth it? I can’t speak to how the new book lives up to any expectations set up by the original, but as my first foray into mummy romance, I quite enjoyed it. Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra was co-written with her son, Christopher Rice, and comes out tomorrow, November 21.
If it’s been a couple decades since you read The Mummy, or if (like me) you haven’t read it at all, don’t worry! The Passion of Cleopatra, thoroughly recaps what happened in the first book and fills you in on what you missed. In The Mummy, an archeologist named Lawrence Stratford discovered the tomb of a mysterious Egyptian Pharaoh named Ramses the Damned, who turned out to be a sleeping immortal. Lawrence was murdered, but his daughter Julie fell in love with Ramses and helped him to blend in with early twentieth-century British society. Over the course of the novel, Ramses gives his elixir of immortality to Julie and their friend Elliot, the Earl of Rutherford. He also makes the dubious decision to pour the elixir over the mummified body of Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt. Cleopatra awakes crazed and violent, eager for revenge against Ramses for his centuries-old betrayal. At the end of the novel, she seemed to die in a fiery train crash, but Cleopatra survived, and this new book is her story.
In The Passion of Cleopatra, Ramses and Julie are trying to settle into their new immortal lives together. As part of a last hurrah for Julie’s mortal life, the couple agrees to celebrate their engagement at a big party hosted by the family of Julie’s former fiancé, Alex Savarell. But things threaten to get derailed when they learn that Cleopatra is still alive and might come for revenge. Cleopatra has her own problems to deal with, however. Though her body miraculously healed from the train crash, her mind has been suffering bouts of memory loss and a strange psychic connection to a young American woman named Sybil Parker. Bigger than any of these problems though, is a millennia-long feud that has been raging between the oldest set of immortals. Bektaten, an ancient African queen of a kingdom lost to history and the creator of the elixir, has sought to live peacefully in the shadows as she chronicles the rise and fall of empires. But her prime minister Saqnos is determined to learn the ingredients to the elixir that made him what he is and raise an immortal army. When he sets his eyes on this new batch of immortals, Bektaten realizes she may have to intervene.
As she often does in her vampire novels, Anne Rice uses her immortal characters to raise complex philosophical questions. Much of the plot revolves around questions about the soul, and whether someone who has died and been revived (like Cleopatra) can truly have one. The book also delves into an exploration of the question “What would you do with immortality?” The answer, of course, is “have a lot of sex”—at least if you’re in an Anne Rice novel. Apart from that, the wide cast of immortal characters show a variety of different ways to approach eternity. Bektaten seeks to quietly do good by using her vast knowledge and experience to heal people who are most in need. Saqnos tries to use his immortality to gain power, wanting to raise an army and rule over mortals. Ramses and Julie just want to bask in their love for each other for the next several centuries. The supporting characters like Elliot, Aktamu, and Ennamon seem content to spend eternity as servants to the ones who made them immortal.
How would you spend eternity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
If you want to buy Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra, you can pick it up in stores tomorrow, or click the affiliate link below to purchase the book from an independent bookstore and support The Gothic Library in the process.