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Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Serpent's Shadow (spoilers!)

Image from Riordan's blog
The Serpent's Shadow by Rick Riordan is the third installment in his Kane Chronicles series. The series began with The Red Pyramid, in which Carter and Sadie Kane discover their father (and late mother) were actually Egyptian magicians and they are descended from a long line of Pharaohs and have magical abilities themselves. When their father is locked into a golden coffin Osiris-style a la the god of evil, Set, they're thrown into an entirely new magical world in which their family is pitted against the official Egyptian magical community, the House of Life. The tension arises from the fact that for thousands of years, calling on and using the gods' powers has been banned, but before she died, Sadie and Carter's mother had a vision that this kind of magic, called the Path of the Gods, would be necessary to save the world from destruction. The magic that ended up causing her death and subsequently imprisoning their father releases gods that have been bound for millennia. While trying to conjure Osiris, their father inadvertently releases five of some of the most powerful gods: Osiris, Isis, Horus, Set and Nephthys. Isis and Horus take up residence inside Sadie and Carter, respectively. And so begins their journey, to Egypt and through the Duat (the magical realm that contains many layers like a vast ocean beneath our reality), eventually learning that the forces of Ma'at (order) and Chaos are no longer in balance, and the Lord of Chaos, the serpent Apophis, is rising and beginning to break out of his age-old prison.

The story is continued in The Throne of Fire, in which Sadie and Carter must find the god Ra, who withdrew from the world eons ago. Their quest is perilous, even considered impossible, but they do end up managing it in the end. Unfortunately, Ra is senile and can barely remember who he is, let alone his role in the fight against Chaos. The major events in the book are that Carter rescues Zia Rashid, who had hosted Nephthys in the last book. He fell in love with her, only to discover that she was actually a shabti, a clay figurine, and the real Zia was safely concealed somewhere, but was running out of time to survive. We also learn that not only have Sadie and Carter continued studying the Path of the Gods, but they have begun instructing other initiates who have come from all over the world. Their uncle Amos has gone to Egypt, to the First Nome to seek healing for his possession by Set in the last book, leaving them in the care of the cat goddess Bast. The Kanes basically have a death sentence on their heads because of the Path of the Gods thing, but Amos never willingly hosted a god and he is given immunity while seeking healing. Carter and Sadie have to travel down the River of Night, the path that Ra's sun barge takes each night, finding each aspect of Ra along the way. They reach Apophis' prison, where Ra's last aspect, Khepri, the scarab was sacrificed to create the prison. By freeing this last aspect of Ra, they release the bonds on Apophis, who is now being hosted by the Chief Lector's advisor, Menshikov, who followed them down the River of Night. The Chief Lector also followed them and casts an execration spell on Apophis, which traps him for a little bit longer, but also uses up his life force in the process. Menshikov had assembled an elite squad of hit magicians (some banished for murder and other crimes) to attack Brooklyn House. Carter and Sadie arrive out of the Duat on the sun barge in time to help their initiates quash the attack, but the rebels escape and start spreading the rumor that Amos, who is now Chief Lector, had a hand in the previous Lector's death. While Amos lifts the ban on the Path of the Gods, many Nomes and magicians defect from the House of Life. Isis and Horus are ticked off because bringing Ra back lost Horus his throne, but also seems in vain since Ra is senile and unable to help against Apophis. Oh and this becomes important in the next book: one of their initiates, Walt, is also suffering from a curse that will kill him within the year if he keeps studying magic, and Menshikov was the only one who knew the cure (a curse passed along the line of King Tut). Apophis is going to rise again and all they've got is a senile god and a band of half-trained teenage magicians.

The Serpent's Shadow is the story of Apophis' rise and defeat, which they manage with the help of an evil magician's ghost. They save Walt, bring back Ra and Carter takes the throne of the Pharaohs. (See full, detailed summary below if you're interested). I really enjoyed reading this book, even though I felt more pressured than usual (I still have 1/4 of Two Towers, Return of the King and the Hobbit to get through in 6 days!) As always, Riordan did a good job of mixing education and entertainment and narrated an engrossing story. The whole book took me probably ~4 hours to read in total. I did have some problems with the book however. Riordan does not seem to be able to nicely tie up a series. Instead of wrapping up all the loose ends, he manages to leave quite a few open, and while I realize this is probably to give him a way to write more Kane stories if he ever wants to, I believed his imagination would allow him to come up with other adventures without leaving unanswered questions. One that has been bugging me a lot since I finished it last night is why Anubis didn't have to withdraw like the rest of the gods. Ra, Isis, Horus and even Set withdrew from the world, leaving their hosts intact. I understand that without Anubis, Walt would die, but I don't understand why Anubis was exempt from this godly exodus. When Sadie asked a similar question, the answer he gave was "I'm mortal now" which also doesn't make sense since Walt seems to be simply a host. Another problem is that I am ticked off that he left Setne free, with the Book of Thoth, able to create mayhem. He should have wrapped up that plot line, though Setne would make an excellent villain in future installments. In the underworld, Sadie's mom mentions something about other magics and other gods, which seems to be another reference to Riordan's other series (They're peppered throughout: pegasii, magic in Long Island, etc) and it seems like Riordan would be opening it up to a crossover, like what the Heroes of Olympus has become. There was also a comment made by Setne about the Greeks stealing all the Egyptians' ideas, even their gods, which also seems to foreshadow something in the future coming up. I don't mind this so much, except that it seemed foreboding instead of throwing a little "easter egg" in every now and then. We'll see; since the Heroes crew are going to Greece in the next book, I wonder if they'll run into anyone from the other side of the Mediterranean. Another part that interested me is that Sadie ends the book by saying she'll send Khufu with the recording, but the transcriber mentions at the very beginning that the recording arrived in a ravaged box that seemed to have been torn up by unknown/unrecognizable animals, another sign of adventures to come? I don't know, call me old fashioned, but I like a neat, tidy ending, especially if it's a happy, peaceful one. No, not everything would be perfect obviously, but still, an ending at that moment in time, with all the strings tied up is always nice and Riordan didn't provide that. He did the same thing with the Percy Jackson series: creating a new Great Prophecy of doom and gloom at the very end, so you can't relax. Admittedly, that allowed the Heroes series to begin, but I thought that since the Kane Chronicles was pretty much stand-alone, the ending would be a bit more tied up. I guess we'll have to wait and see how he wraps up the Heroes series in the next two books; then maybe it'll be more obvious if he just left it open because it was going to cross over, or because he's not very good at endings (like Douglas Adams). All in all, the book was worth the money, in my opinion, and definitely worth the read. It's fun, fast and educational, all at once. It's basically an awesome read, like all the other Riordan books.

Full Summary with lots of spoilers below:
Apophis has broken free of his prison, and is attacking different Nomes, all of which possessed a scroll that had a spell for Apophis' execration. They've tracked down the last scroll and arrive in time for Apophis' attack. They lose the scroll, but save a golden cabinet, on advice Sadie got from a face in the wall. Apophis also kills all the magicians in the Dallas nome, leaving no survivors. When they get home and examine the cabinet, they find it apparently empty, but Bast can see King Tut's shadow inside the box. The shadow, or sheut, is one fifth of a person's soul (along with their ren, their secret name). The sheut is like a back up disc for the soul, in case Ammit's devouring of the soul needs to be reversed or some such thing. A plan begins to formulate. The plan B if Ra couldn't be revived was for Sadie and Carter to cast a traditional execration on Apophis, which was unlikely to work, but would surely kill them. But, if they could trap Apophis' soul inside the figurine used in the execration, it would increase the power and stop him from ever coming back. Sadie also wonders if she could find Bes' sheut and thus restore him as well (he lost his ren, and thus his personality, helping them retrieve Ra in the last book). They realize that they need to find the magician who authored the scroll, Setne, who is about to be tried in the underworld. Meanwhile, Walt finds out that he only has about two days left to live, and the day after that, Apophis will rise and attack the First Nome, with the help of the rogue magicians, who have revealed to be working with Apophis. Sadie and Carter's mom's spirit is also missing, and more and more spirits are being sucked into Apophis' sheut ever day, strengthening it. Sadie and Carter leave on their quest with Walt, telling Bast to gather all the initiates and head to the First Nome to help defend it when Apophis attacks. They head to the underworld and petition their father to let Setne go. Imagine an even more psychotic, evil Jack Sparrow. He's charming and can use the Words of Power to manipulate pretty much anyone. He manages to hook every one in, promising to help Sadie and Carter find the shadow, execrate Apophis and even save their mom. He suggests splitting up, sending Sadie and Walt to find Bes' shadow so Sadie can learn how to capture the shadow (since Walt will die before the final showdown) and himself going with Zia and Carter to retrieve the Book of Thoth, which holds many of the gods' secrets, including a map to the serpent's shadow (ah, the title!). Zia and Carter manage to help Setne retrieve the Book of Thoth from the Temple of the Apis bull, almost dying in the process. It's revealed that Ra has chosen Zia as a host and she's learning about the Path of the Gods the hard way; Ra's power is almost literally burning her up. She manages to survive, but then Setne manages to order their boat's demon captain to try to kill Carter, at the same time bringing him to the Land of Demons, where the shadow is. Zia uses Ra's power to destroy the demon, Carter binds Setne and Ra's crook and flail presented themselves to Carter in place of his usual khopesh, which he lost earlier. Zia and Carter share their first kiss on the banks of the Land of Demons and have a picnic while they decide how to procede. Meanwhile, Sadie and Walt were challenged by Neith to a hunt, with them as the prey. If they can last until sunset, she will help them find Bes' shadow, hidden in her temple, and fight against Apophis. Walt and Sadie manage to outsmart her using their amulets, running in opposite directions and then teleporting the other when they're trapped. Unfortunately, they get distracted when they see Bes' shadow, but Sadie manages to keep Neith distracted until sunset, holding her to her promise. Walt is literally dying, with Anubis by his side, as he shows Sadie how to trap the shadow in the figurine. She manages to do a reverse execration and send the shadow back to Bes (though she's not sure it worked), but by this time Walt has died. Five seconds later, he opens his eyes again; he is now hosting Anubis, who has never had a mortal host, allowing him to extend his lifespan and allowing Anubis to have a mortal life like many other gods have had, and seemingly solving Sadie's love triangle dilemma. But she kinda freaks out a bit. She has to go rescue Carter and Zia, who've walked into a trap (another one) and Walt agrees to meet her at the First Nome since he's still too weak to move at the present time. Carter and Zia have been busy. They can't interpret the map and have to let Setne go so he can lead them to the shadow. They allow him to cast a glamour on them, so they blend in and look like demons and follow him to the Sea of Chaos, a churning mass that sucks everything in, splitting up the atoms and annihilating anything. There is a single pillar of Ma'at (like the Washington monument) and a small jetty that survive the sea's effect and to capture the shadow, they must be on the very edge of the jetty, while preventing themselves from getting sucked in. Their glamours start to fade and flicker, but there are no demons or spirits near the sea to see them; Setne is constantly surprised that they are still alive as they approach closer and closer, but Ra's power through Zia is protecting them. They manage to summon the serpent's shadow, but Setne betrays them, changing the glamour to a binding curse. He explains that he will bind the shadow within a figurine and blackmail Apophis with execration unless he does as he orders; he wants to destroy Egypt and all mention of his father (Ramses the Great) as well as most magicians, but not the entire world. Unfortunately, there are some spells he can't cast since he's a ghost, so he needed Carter and Zia's help. This is when Sadie drops in, right on top of Setne. She manages to bind him and unbind Carter and Zia. Despite her emotional distress, she manages to capture the shadow and they turn back to Setne, but he's disappeared, bindings and all. However, they have bigger problems: the shadow called for reinforcements and an army of 3-400 demons are marching toward them as they try to leave. Suddenly, the demons start scattering. All the gods from Sunny Acres (the rest home where forgotten gods go, and where Bes had been staying) have appeared to fight for them. The fight gave them a purpose, and Bes has returned to his old ugly self, just in time to get them to Ra's sun barge, which is just passing by. When they get on board, Ra is still old and senile, but he and Zia face each other, and he dissolves, being reborn into Zia as a host. This freaks Carter out a bit since he sees both his girlfriend and a 5,000 year old, bald, muscle-bound god, but Sadie calms him down and he even guesses about Walt/Anubis. They arrive in Giza to find Bast distracting Apophis as best she can. Bes and Ra/Zia go to help her, while Sadie and Carter help to defend the First Nome. The rebel magicians are already there, guarding the door to the Hall of Ages, where Amos is trapped with the hit squad. The initiates manage to fight their way through, with Walt/Anubis helping immensely with his death magic. When they enter, Amos is managing to hold his own against the magicians because he is now hosting Set, and actually managing to control him. Some initiates freak out and think he's being possessed again, but he is managing to restrain Set's urge to kill. Sadie and Carter channel Isis and Horus and join the fight, but they're all subdued. The lead rebel makes the mistake of almost killing Sadie and Walt/Anubis bring forth the spirits of the dead to pull her down into the Duat somewhere. Her lieutenant is channeling Apophis, and is killed, but manages to cast one last spell "bring down" to destroy the Nome. Sadie channels Isis' power and manages to speak the most difficult Word of Power of all: "Ma'at" and restores the Nome, passing out in the process. They've won the battle for the Hall of Ages, but the battle with Apophis still lies before them. In order to do the execration, they must be face to face with the serpent. Carter/Horus call on the gods and with their help, the small army marches out to meet Apophis, but he's fracturing reality and they're all separated on different levels of the Duat, fighting differents parts of Apophis. Sadie and Carter manage to find where the serpent is strongest and though he manages to swallow Ra/Zia, they still cast the execration spell and banish him forever. Zia escapes, blowing up Apophis' head in the process but the gods have to withdraw. Chaos and Ma'at are so intertwined that by pushing away and banishing Chaos, the forces of Ma'at must also be pushed away. They haven't been destroyed, but they'll have much less interaction (read: pretty much none) with humans from now on. Though Ra has returned, he offers Horus the throne, and Carter takes the throne of the Pharaoh in the First Nome as well. Walt has gone missing, and Bast and Bes have also withdrawn. Carter leaves the running of the House of Life to Amos, who is now fully supported all over the world, and he and Sadie are called back to the underworld to chat with their parents. Their mother is back, and offers some advice to Sadie about Walt: to follow her heart. Carter's dad tells Carter how proud he is of him and that he knew Setne would try to escape, as he'd done for eons. They return to Brooklyn House, where Walt/Anubis is waiting for him. Because Anubis is somehow mortal (never satisfactorily explained), he doesn't have to withdraw from the world and can stay with Sadie, studying the Path of Anubis, which has never been explored before. Zia ends up moving to Brooklyn House and helping teach, as well as dating Carter. Amos sends real chaperones since Bast has to withdraw with the other gods; they do get to say goodbye to her and to Bes, who has decided to build a house by Sunny Acres with his new girlfriend Tawaret, who works as a nurse there. Setne is still on the loose with the Book of Thoth and Brooklyn House has had an influx of initiates, as have most of the Nomes in the world. They explain that they'll be so busy that there probably won't be any more recordings (all of these books are transcribed recordings) and thus ends the series.


  1. The Serpent's Shadow is pretty much as perfect as all his other books. I really want to be an author but I know Iwill never write anything like his books. How can anyone write anything this good? Really, it seems like it would be a physical impossibility. If there are angels, they probably read his books and are big fans of him too. How can the guy be this fantastic using only what other people have already written? But enough of pondering the great mysteries of the universe. This book is superb. It didn't have as many twists as the other ones but was still awesome. I like how he resolved the...SPOILERS...Sadie-Walt-Anubis thing. Still not sure why he did the Lacy-Drew thing. If you've read his other books all I need say is that it posesses his typical genius. If you have not, then do it or force me to hunt you down and make you do it at the point of something very sharp. Please do it yourself, for being threatened while reading his masterpieces might diminish your enjoyment of them and no one deserves something so torturous. Besides, unless you live in AK,or even if you do, it might make me take a plane to reach you and I hate them as much as if I were Poseidon's daughter. So....marvelous, read unless you want to die painfully and go to the Fields of Punishment for your heinous crime and writhe in pain eternally.

  2. Very great book, Did my 8th grade book report on it, So much to take in, i ust love it.

  3. ooooo i love da book