I have been enthralled by Ancien Egypt ever since I did a project on Tutankhamen in primary school. However I know of very little high quality children's fiction set in that fascinating historical context. Of course there have been fantasies and time slips involving modern children going back to Ancient Egypt or featuring Egyptian gods, 'mummies' and the like intruding into our own world, but that's not the same. Very few writers have successfully recreated the actual history of the period as a background to children's fiction. Perhaps this stems from the difficulty of creating characters who are engaging and understandable to a contemporary children's audience yet do not think, talk or behave in ways jarringly anachronistic for such a remote and alien culture.
It is enormously to the credit of Jamie Buxton that he achieves exactly that. It is even more remarkable that he does so through the first person narrative voice of an Ancient Egyptian boy. His protagonist is lively, likeable, and often funny, but still largely credible as living in the Egypt of the pharaohs. He does think and act in a way consistent with the period, at least allowing for the imaginative interpretation of any historical fiction, yet is still someone with whom the contemporary child can easily identify and empathise. The author's chosen background period too, the turbulent reign of the strange and 'heretic' pharaoh, Akenaten, contains much historical accuracy combined with recreation based on reputable academic theory and speculation. Of course the actual adventure is somewhat less likely, but not altogether incongruous. It is also exciting and involving. The secondary characters are often most interestingly three-dimensional too, including the pharoh's daughter, Mekataten, as well as Akenaten himself and his wife Nefertiti. This is a romp, but an intelligent romp. Beneath its high adrenaline shenanigans the book has some worthwhile ideas to explore and some valuable things to say, not least about the true meaning of freedom. All of these combine to make Sun Thief an impressive piece of writing and a most enjoyable read. This is ancient history brought excitingly alive for contemporary children without it being turned totally into modern tosh.