July 29, 2020

The Lost Scroll of the Physician (Secrets of the Sands, Book 1)

Written by Alisha Sevigny
272 pp.
Ages 8-13
January 2020

He looks up at me, expression bleak. "There is nothing you can do, Sesha. This is an ailment you cannot treat."
     "I will treat it," I say firmly. "And I swear by the gods I will find that scroll and see you cured." (pg. 129)
Thirteen-year-old Sesha  and her younger brother Ky have been fending for themselves for a month since the fire that killed their parents. Because Sesha had seen guards with the pharaoh's crest running from the burning house, Sesha believes Pharaoh had had their father Ay, Great Physician and Chief Scribe, killed, perhaps because of his last project. Though she doesn't know much about the scroll he'd been transcribing, she remembers hearing that it was by the Great Imhotep and might have great implications for the world but also save Ky's life.

When they are returned to the palace, Ky is delighted to be reunited with his friend Prince Tutan, Pharaoh's young son, but Sesha is wary of all, including Pharaoh; Wujat, their father's friend and Grand Vizier and former High Priest; the new physician Ahmes; Queen Anatmoset; the priest Nebifu; and Scribe Sebau. In her determination to find the scroll, she requests permission to study the medical arts with other scribes at the temple where her father's chambers had been. Pharaoh agrees on the assurance that she will search for the missing scroll which he claims to be an invaluable treatise for military surgery.

With the help of Pharaoh's daughter Merat and a scribe trainee, Paser, and some other unlikely allies, Sesha searches for the scroll so that she may help Ky, who has seizures because of an excess of fluid in his skull, but also disprove the rumour that her father was a heretic who believed only in practical medicine and not the magic of their gods, and learn who was responsible for their parents' deaths. But with those who have already harmed her parents determined to stop her efforts, Sesha must rely on her instincts and learned skills to persist in her quest if she is to save the only family she has left.

Set in Ancient Egypt, a unique culture rife with intrigue and peculiarities–the mummification Sesha witnesses as part of her studies is especially distinctive–The Lost Scroll of the Physician is at its heart a spellbinding mystery. Central to the story, of course, the plot to locate the missing scroll which could be anywhere or already discovered and perhaps destroyed. And with so many characters at the palace, at the temple and in the countryside, Alisha Sevigny has created a story that is embedded with treasonous villains, colourful happenings–from snake charming to a hippo hunt and the Festival of the Inundation–and a setting rich in history and ethos. Ancient Egypt becomes part of the story, not just the setting, giving readers even more story as they follow Sesha and her allies into the mastaba in which her parents are interred, or into the embalming room, or through the market where Ky steals food. The Lost Scroll of the Physician will delight middle grade readers with its history, its setting and, most of all, its gripping adventure and mystery which, though resolved, offers more to come.

With the release of The Desert Prince, Book 2 in the Secrets of the Sands series, slated for this September, we don't have long to wait until we get to accompany Sesha and her new friends on a new mission away from Thebes and undoubtedly into more danger and in conflict with new adversaries. 

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