by Vanessa MacLellan (Hadley Rille)
I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed Three Great Lies by Vanessa MacLellan . It felt like a visit to a real place–a real, vibrant culture–with real people that I won’t soon forget and will want to revisit again and again. It’s YA, but then so is Harry Potter so don’t let that stop you.
The main characters are present-day tourist Jeannette, Aboyami the non-scary ambulatory mummy, and Sanura – a shy, daughter of the cat-headed Egyptian goddess Bast. The cover depicts them quite well, I might add.
The book starts with our young woman archaeology-minded protagonist being beckoned off the beaten path to a newly discovered dig. In exploring the site she gets separated from her guide and comes out into ancient Egypt. If you allow for the magic that brought her there to also allow her to not have to learn a new language, the rest flows naturally. I didn’t really like Jeanette at first, but during her struggle to survive Jeannette grow over the course of the book from a shallow, irritated, self-centered person to someone who copes with her new reality and starts to care about others. It’s comparable to the transformation of Eustace Scrubb in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but done much more smoothly.
At first Jeannette is irritated with her mummy stalker, until she realizes Aboyami thinks she stole his key to his afterlife. Her gradual shift to concern for his very real plight and despair humanizes her. His growth as a character is unexpected in a person who is, quite literally, dead and about to fall apart. His final surprising fate is a foreshadowed delight.
The addition of Sanura to their on-again, off-again traveling band makes no sense at first, and the poor young creature feels cast out and confused. The world and her place in it are not what she expected. Her simple nobility and kindness, and trust in her mother Bast, are the anchors she holds onto as she experiences what are to her frightening and depressing circumstances. How her faith and expectations change is a lovely character arc in its own right.
The three companions, forced into each other’s lives by circumstance and fate, seem very real and very human. Once she realizes she is marooned there–but oh, how she want to come back to our world!–Jeannette eventually comes out of herself and forms compassionate friendships with the mummy and the cat-headed girl. The mystery this set up is very well done, with twists and character reveals and a truly believable villain.
A mild spoiler: the “three great lies” mentioned in the title turn out to be a simple fortune cookie message that Jeannette carried with her before she was magically transported to ancient Egypt. But it also wraps things up beautifully, thematically. Each of the main characters has a self-image that the story shows is untrue. Jeannette thought her heart’s desire was to get back home. Aboyami the mummy thought he needed his heart scarab to move on to the afterlife. Cat-headed Sanura thought she wanted to return to being just like all her litter-mates. I’m not going to give too much away and tell you how these beliefs were shown to be untrue. I want you to have the pleasure of finding out for yourself. Go, buy this book now. You’ll thank me.