My rating: 3 of 5 stars
By publishing order, Guardian of the Horizon is book #16 of the Amelia Peabody series. Chronologically, however, it is book #11, falling in time not too long after The Ape Who Guards the Balance. It’s one of two (as of the writing of this review) books that fill in the gap of time between Balance and the book after it, The Falcon at the Portal. And, if you’re a fan of Book #6, The Last Camel Died at Noon, it’s vital to note that this is also a direct followup to that book as it revisits the lost oasis city where the Emersons first discovered and rescued Nefret Forth.
The young prince Merasen comes to England to bring the Emersons the news that Tarek, the ruler they helped put into power ten years before, is gravely ill and needs their help. Naturally Amelia, Emerson, Ramses, and Nefret agree that they must go–and are in equal agreement that David must not, for he has only just finally won the betrothal of Walter and Evelyn’s child Lia and they all believe it would be cruel to part him from her. And for all that they’d just as soon leave Nefret behind as well, Ramses and his parents must grudgingly admit that Nefret’s medical skill makes her essential on the journey.
That journey proves just as perilous as the one the Emersons undertook before. This time around the story has a darker overtone, as assault and murder and betrayal dog them all the way to the Lost Oasis. Nor does it help matters that a treasure hunter and a young woman who seems rather forcibly in his care cross their paths, for Ramses finds himself uncomfortably drawn to the girl.
And that’s where this book falls over somewhat for me. We’ve just spent two books, Seeing a Large Cat and The Ape Who Guards the Balance, establishing that Ramses has been carrying a growing devotion to Nefret and has pretty much ever since he set eyes on her as a lad. In this very Lost Oasis, for that matter. I won’t go into details here for fear of spoilers for those who haven’t read this book; instead I’ll simply say that the strength of Ramses’ reaction to her is totally out of left field to me as a reader. The ending scene that tries to smooth things over and remind you who Ramses is really destined for doesn’t help, either.
I should also mention that Nefret herself spends regretfully little time doing anything useful in this plot. She becomes a MacGuffin here rather than a fully participating character, and behaves generally out of character as well.
It’s a shame, really, because aside from these two factors the book’s still fairly solid. The Emersons walk right into a trap of political intrigue that follows nicely out of the original adventure in this setting, and at least when Ramses and Nefret aren’t being out of character, there’s decent tension to be had. On my second read through I did appreciate those parts of the story more, which let me add another star to my original rating. Still, though, this is one of the weaker installments of the series. Three stars.