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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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10/30/2008 Entry: "Book review: Seti's Heart"

Seti's Heart
By Kiernan Kelly
1st Torquere Press Printing January 2008
Also available as an e-book

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Seeing how it's so close to Halloween, I thought I'd review a sexy horror story. Looking in my e-book folder, I found a novel about a mummy I was supposed to have reviewed back in the spring. Oops! Since it had hibernated for so long, I thought I'd better resurrect it, like the mummy it's about. Being familiar with Torquere Press' usual fare, I took for granted it would be a hot, sexy gay love story. Much to my surprise, it was a very good story as well. Good enough to be made into a movie, if it weren't for the gay love story. Let's hope some enlightened film producer takes a stab at it in the not too distant future.

The story begins in the distant past, 5,000 years ago in Egypt's Nile Valley, in the camp of the Children of Setekh. Their handsome young king, Seti, a brave warrior and a powerful sorcerer, has been driven half-mad with grief by the death of his lover Ashai. The young man was murdered by the king's enemies, who seek to make a weaker man king so they can divvy up the king's power amongst themselves. Calling up the power of the desert winds, Seti destroys all his enemies and curses Setekh, the patron god of his tribe, for aiding and abetting their treachery.

But Setekh, also known as Set, the crocodile-headed "bad boy" of the Egyptian pantheon, is not a god you can insult lightly. So he curses Seti in return, to five thousand years of oblivion, a living death within a mummy's sarcophagus. To make matters worse, Seti's heart (which the ancient Egyptians considered the center of intelligence, rather than the brain, which was always removed and discarded) is the only organ cut out of his still living body (instead of the more important organs like the liver, lungs, stomach and intestines) and put into a canopic jar inside his coffin. So Seti is doomed to a twilight existence inside his solid gold sarcophagus, until five thousand years have passed and his heart has been reunited with his body.

Five thousand years later in New York City, in the basement of the National Museum of Natural History (which sounds an awful lot like the Museum of Natural History here in my fair city), a curious young graduate student named Logan Ashton, assistant to Dr. Lincoln Perry, Curator of Relics, falls victim to an attack of overwhelming curiosity while dusting off the huge collection of relics. Despite Dr. Perry's warning never to open the door of a certain room, Logan finds himself compelled, like Bluebeard's wife, to open the forbidden door, behind which is hidden the solid gold sarcophagus of King Seti.

Once inside the secret room, Logan finds himself fascinated by the lifelike effigy of Seti carved on the lid of the coffin, depicting the handsome warrior-king wearing nothing but long, beaded braids, a jeweled torq around his neck and a scrolled bracelet on his right bicep, his flaccid but impressive naughty bits also carved in realistic detail. Logan then feels another strong compulsion to open the mummy's tomb and takes a crowbar to the coffin lid. Once the mummy is revealed, it isn't long before Logan picks up the pink quartz canopic jar containing Seti's heart, long since turned to dust, inscribed with hieroglyphics that say: CURSED IS HE WHO HAS NO HEART. While examining the jar, Logan accidentally breaks the seal, which looks like Setekh's head, and spills the ashes of Seti's heart right on the mummy's chest. It isn't long before our boy Seti comes busting out and is once more among the living, standing in the splendid flesh among the ruins of his sarcophagus, staring in amazement at the green-eyed graduate student who resembles his murdered lover Ashai.

The story goes from humorous to horrific by turns. One minute you're laughing over Seti's "fish out of water" adjustments to the 21st Century, like when Logan is forced to buy him a souvenir tee shirt, sweatpants and flip-flops from the museum gift shop to cover his nakedness, explaining that "You can't run around New York in nothing but your skin. People don't do that anymore. We're civilized now," and Seti, accustomed to the near-nakedness common to the desert climate of Egypt, complains, "How is covering yourself with cloth from neck to ankle when it is not needed for protection from the elements a mark of progress?" (In case you're wondering how Seti learned to speak English so well, remember that he spent the last five thousand years imprisoned in a box, aware of everything around him, with nothing to do but sleep and listen to the voices outside his box after he was discovered fifty years ago, which is how he learned to speak our language.) When Logan takes him to a local bar for his first meal, Seti likes the taste of hamburgers but hates Budweiser Beer, claiming that real beer is supposed to taste "sweet and fruity." I guess that's how they brewed it way back then.

The next minute you're shivering over the description of a cold-blooded scientific plot to steal immortality by a group of aging archeologists who discovered Seti's tomb fifty years ago, led by an immoral millionaire, Ethan Wilder, who sounds a lot like Donald Trump. I pictured him in my mind as looking more like Malcolm McDowell, after I read his physical description. But he's the most villainous villain I've ever seen between the pages of a book, complete with amoral henchmen and his own private hit man, whom he promptly sends after poor old Professor Perry for allowing Seti to slip through his fingers. Then he goes after Logan, and his friends, who are hiding him and Seti. A good friend of Logan gets killed and the young man goes after Wilder for revenge, followed by the love-struck Seti, determined to protect his new lover from his former lover's fate. Then the old Egyptian gods decide to stick their immortal selves into mortal affairs. It gets pretty crowded in the pages of Kelly's book, but "All's well that ends well," as another great immortal once wrote. The sex scenes aren't as abundant as they usually are in a Torquere Press book, but they're well written, filled with tenderness, passion and excitement.

To sum up, Kiernan Kelly's novel is a cut above the usual Torquere fare, just as Seti is a cut above your usual mummy. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a real story with mystery, suspense, romance and royalty, just like they try to teach you to write in every Creative Writing class from junior high to collage. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by Seti's Heart, too. Try and get it for Halloween, it makes a nice change from all the werewolf and vampire stories.

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