Book Review: The Shadow King

The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut’s Mummy, is not simply another rehashing of the King Tut legend and lore. Instead, author Jo Marchant focuses the stranger-than-fiction history behind the search for Tut and the subsequent fallout of Carter’s discovery. And indeed, fallout; in terms of scientific, historical, sociological, and political consequences, is the best way to describe the decades since The Boy King was discovered. The hunt for King Tut and the search for clues as to the truth of his demise have had a hidden, but substantial, impact on not only Egypt but the world.


Marchant makes every effort to go back to the original source material, tracking down the people who were directly involved in the many events described in the book wherever possible, and uncovering the original notes and journals of those long-dead individuals who first led the charge to find Tut and open his tomb. What we learn is that the search for answers pushed the boundaries of science in a hundred different directions, encouraging (and in some cases forcing) scientists to completely rethink what we knew about everything from DNA to radiology to forensic odontology.


Some of the most interesting sections of the book focus more on how the mystique of Tut has been used to gain influence in socio-political spheres. We see how Tut served as a de facto “ambassador” for Egypt during the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty negotiations.  We see Tut’s image usurped by the Black Power movement of the 1960’s. We see how certain elements attempted to usurp Tut’s legacy to prove the validity of the Bible. The Boy King proved to be more influential in death, in a way, than he could possibly have been in life.


Marchant does a thorough and balanced job of sorting through all of the various theories and conspiracies surrounding Tut and his treasure. Again, she goes to the original source material to make her points clear. In most cases, she refrains from passing judgment per se and instead lets the evidence speak for itself.


When dealing with some of the more outlandish beliefs, however, she barely contains her contempt in a way that is refreshingly funny. So often with this type of book, the author takes great care to remain “diplomatic” in how he or she responds to the less reasoned elements in the field. There are points where the sarcasm almost drips off the page. It is nice to see someone refusing to give serious weight to nonsensical ideas instead of pretending all ideas are equally valid.


Despite the complex nature of the research, Marchant maintains an accessible style that allows the reader to follow the twists and turns easily. The Shadow King reads like a history lesson cleverly disguised as an adventure/mystery. Perhaps it isn’t so much a disguise, as the only way to do justice to the story of King Tut.

 Review Note: I was given a complimentary advanced review copy of this title for review. This title is scheduled for release June 4th, 2013.



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