Reviewed by Chuck Rothman
Since 1999, Keith Taylor has been publishing a series of stories in Weird Tales about Kamose, a magician and the archpriest of Anubis in ancient Egypt. Servant of the Jackal God collects these stories and adds two new ones featuring Kamose and some of his aids.
It’s actually surprising that there are so few fantasy stories set in ancient Egypt. There’s a rich mythology to draw from, which not only is fascinating, but also helps the story to stand out from the pack of fantasy. Taylor makes the most of this, carefully drawing characters and settings that are strange and wonderful, and telling stories that use the background almost as another character.
There is a progression in the stories. The events, most notably in “The Emerald Scarab,” where Kamose thwarts a plot against him involving the title jewel, which was part of a pharaoh’s burial rites. Several of the following stories deal with the ramifications of that one, as Kamose tries to find out who was behind it all.
Two of the stories are new for this edition. “The Return of Ganesh” refers to a character introduced in “Haunted Shadows,” a jeweler who is more than what he seems to be. It brings in Si-Hotep, a thief who was introduced as the man who is given “The Archpriest’s Potion” in that story and uses it as a thief would most likely use it. It involves him capturing the man who may know about the issue of the Emerald Scarab.
“The Shabti Assassin” moves on from there, as Kamose investigates a series of supernatural murders.
Kamose is a formidable character. He is nearly immortal, as well as versed in magic and the idiosyncrasies of the Egyptian gods. I think his only real flaw is that he is omnipotent — he seems to know everything and always has the right spell on hand to deal with the situations set up. Though “The Company of the Gods” shows something of his origins and the terrible mistake that made him what he is, he never seems to have any problems reaching his goals. This doesn’t make him any less fascinating, and Taylor is smart enough to sometimes show things from the point of view of other characters who serve him but don’t have access to his knowledge.
Si-Hotep is also a strong character, a smart thief who knows his limits. I was also taken by the character of Mertseger the lamia, a voluptuous woman who is also a devouring snake when Kamose isn’t around to stop her.
Overall, the progression of the stories and the events in them make putting them all together read like a novel. Characters and events in one story have a bearing on others. However, there is no overall resolution (I suspect Taylor may eventually write a story that concludes the arc) and the stories stand quite well by themselves.
Chuck Rothman’s most recent publication was “The Princess’s Kiss” in Penumbra.