Amelia Peabody Series, by Elizabeth Peters
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Amelia Peabody Series, by Elizabeth Peters

The history of Mrs. Amelia P. Emerson (also know as Amelia Peabody) is an amazing family saga, encompassing three generations, a world war, and thirty-five years of turbulent history.

It began with the first trip to Egypt of Amelia Peabody (as she then was) in 1884. She was accompanied by a young companion, Evelyn Barton Forbes, who, like Amelia, found a career and true love in the Land of the Pharaohs. They married brothers -- Amelia accepting the hand of the distinguished archaeologist Radcliffe Emerson, and Evelyn that of his younger brother Walter. Amelia’s love of Egypt almost equaled her love for her hot-tempered (but extremely handsome) husband. She joined him in his annual excavations, which, except for a few brief hiatuses, continued for the entire thirty-five years. 

Inevitably, as Amelia might say, a second generation of Emersons ensued. Walter Emerson and his wife retired to her family estate in Yorkshire, where he could pursue his study of ancient languages. They became parents of six children (one of whom perished in infancy): Radcliffe Junior, Margaret, Amelia Junior (who insisted on being addressed as Lia to avoid confusion with her aunt), and twin boys, Johnny and Willy. Johnny died in France, serving his country during the First World War.

For reasons Mrs. Emerson declines to discuss (as is certainly her right), the elder Emersons had only one child, a boy named Walter Peabody Emerson. He is better known by his nickname of Ramses, given him by his father because he was “swarthy as an Egyptian and arrogant as a pharaoh.” His mother would have said (and indeed, often did say) that one like Ramses was quite enough for any woman. Precocious, prolix, and pedantic, he barely survived a number of hair-raising adventures, but he finally developed into a young man with all the qualities a mother could wish. 

Further additions to both families came through adoption and/or marriage. On a trip to an unknown oasis in the Western Desert, Amelia and Emerson (who prefers to be addressed by his last name) discovered a young English girl, Nefret Forth, and brought her back to England as their ward. Ramses and Nefret were raised as brother and sister, and it took Nefret some time to realize that her feelings for him were considerably warmer than that of a sibling. (Ramses was a lot quicker to catch on.) After a considerable amount of misunderstanding, heartbreak, and frustration (particularly for Ramses), they were married.

The other adopted child was David Todros, a talented young Egyptian artist, who was working in semi-slavery for a forger of antiquities when the elder Emersons found and freed him. The grandson of their Egyptian reis, or foreman, Abdullah (of whom more hereafter), he became Ramses’s blood brother and eventually his cousin by marriage, when David wed Lia Emerson. Lia and David also produced a third generation, a girl named after Evelyn Emerson and a boy named for his great-grandfather, Abdullah. 

The Emersons had very little to do with Amelia’s Peabody kin, an unattractive lot who produced one of the nastiest villains they ever encountered. The only good thing Percy ever did was produce a child, little Sennia, who was adopted by the Emersons and became very dear to them. However, Amelia considered herself to have a second family in a group of Egyptians who were the blood relations of their reis Abdullah. Abdullah’s innumerable relatives worked for the Emersons on the dig and in the household; several became close friends of the Emersons, including Selim, Abdullah’s youngest son, who replaced his father as reis after Abdullah’s heroic death; Daoud, Abdullah’s nephew, noted for his immense strength, amiable disposition, and love of gossip;  Fatima, Abdullah’s daughter-in-law, who became the Emersons’ indispensable housekeeper; Kadija, Daoud’s wife, the dispenser of an amazingly effective green ointment; and of course David Todros.

As Amelia mentions, Egyptians are fond of nicknames. So, it would appear, were the Emersons. Ramses and Lia are consistently referred to by those names; Amelia secretly appreciated her flattering appellation of Sitt Hakim, Lady Doctor, though she was equally appreciative of her husband’s habit of calling her by her maiden name of Peabody as a demonstration of equality and affection. Emerson detested his given name and preferred to be addressed by his surname or by his Egyptian sobriquet, Father of Curses (which, as his wife admits, was well deserved despite her effort to cure him of using bad language). Nefret was known to many Egyptians as Nur Misur, “Light of Egypt.” Her husband’s less charming Egyptian name was Brother of Demons. It was meant as a compliment, however, acknowledging his varied abilities in disguise and languages. 

One other member of the family had a plethora of pseudonyms. When Amelia and Emerson first encountered Sethos, aka the Master Criminal, aka the Master, they regarded him as a deadly enemy -- head of the illegal antiquities racket in Egypt and the Middle East, and Emerson’s rival for Amelia’s affections. It came as a considerable shock to them (and, the Editor must admit, to her) when they discovered he was Emerson’s illegitimate half-brother. During the First World War he redeemed himself by serving as a secret agent, a role for which he was well qualified by his skill in the art of disguise and his knowledge of the Middle East. Ramses, who had similar talents, was also recruited for the Secret Service, and carried out several perilous missions in Egypt and the Middle East. His best friend, David, served with him on one of these jobs; the Editor suspects David may have been involved in at least one other, but unfortunately the journals for several of the war years are still missing. Sethos, much to the surprise of everyone except Amelia (who claimed the credit for reforming him) became a friend and supporter.

And now, dear Readers, the Great War has ended and the family is about to be reunited. The saga continues!

 

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