Further Reading: Cursed Sarcophagi

Three weeks ago, archaeologists unearthed a sealed, 30-ton, black granite sarcophagus (and an alabaster bust) after some 2,000 years of presumably peaceful rest. Egyptian officials were eager to pry it open and peek inside, but citizens of the Internet were less enthused. Thinking logically, the Twittersphere pointed out the obvious: what if it’s cursed?!

Warnings were ignored, and last week the coffin was, irrevocably, opened. It held three skeletons, floating in foul—possibly toxic—sewage water, which had leaked in through a crack in one of the sides (raising the question of whether the curse has already been released). Thousands of people have signed a petition asking to drink the mystery liquid (desperate times, I suppose). Mostafa Waziri, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, dismissed the very rational concerns of world-ending plagues saying, “I was the first to put my whole head inside the sarcophagus, and here I stand before you. I am fine.” Which sounds like exactly what someone turned into the human puppet of Imhotep would say.

If this viral news story has you in the mood to read about mummy’s curses or to learn more about Egyptian history and archaeology, you might enjoy the following titles, linked to their excerpted Booklist reviews.


 Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaosby R. L. LaFevers, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

“You’d be surprised by how many things come into the museum loaded with curses—bad ones,” says 11-year-old Theodosia, whose parents run London’s Museum of Legends and Antiquities. The twentieth century has just begun, and Theodosia’s mum, an archaeologist, has recently returned from Egypt with crates of artifacts. Only Theodosia can feel the objects’ dark magic, which, after consulting ancient texts, she has learned to remove. Then a sacred amulet disappears, and during her search, Theodosia stumbles into a terrifying battle between international secret societies.


Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatraby Anne Rice and Christopher Rice

Ramses, once an Egyptian pharaoh, then an English Egyptologist, is no longer damned. His fiancé, Julie, and his friend, Elliott, now both immortal, as is he, are at his side. His decades of loneliness have ended. But beings like himself, their intentions nebulous, have been called to Edwardian London. There’s the beautiful Bektaten, creator of the immortality serum, who arrives seeking revenge. There’s Saqnos, Bektaten’s former adviser, whose endless jealousy has driven him to awaken from his long stasis. Finally, there’s Cleopatra, Ramses’ former lover, newly revived and slowly losing her mind. These mysterious forces swirl together to create a new and exciting story for Ramses and Julie, thrusting them into a magical world within the one they’ve grown so accustomed to.


Howard and the Mummy: Howard Carter and the Search for King Tut’s Tombby Tracey Fern, illustrated by Boris Kulikov

The lure of treasure hunting got its hooks into Howard Carter at a young age, as did the undeniable appeal of ancient mummies. It seems inevitable, therefore, that he would become an Egyptologist, though no one could have predicted he’d make one of archaeology’s greatest discoveries: the tomb of Tutankhamun. Fern and Kulikov (Barnum’s Bones​, 2012) unearth another of history’s monumental finds in their picturesque biography of Carter, following him from his first job copying art at Egyptian digs to his systematic studies of archaeological methods and ancient Egypt, which led to his career as a skilled excavator.


Death Shall Comeby Simon R. Green

Ishmael Jones, who’s extraterrestrial by birth but (mostly) human by nature, is an operative for the Organisation, a shadowy British intelligence agency. In this fourth entry in the series, Ishmael and his partner, Penny, are confronted with something that is, even to people who work for the Organisation, pretty difficult to believe: a mummy’s curse. Has someone really died as the result of a mummy’s curse, or is there an all-too-human explanation? Can Ishmael and Penny get to the truth before the killer—human or otherwise—gets to them?


 Pharaoh: Life and Afterlife of a Godby David Kennett

There are many books about ancient Egypt, but this extraordinarily handsome one delves deeply into the various roles of the pharaoh, and, in the process, gives readers a much fuller understanding of Egyptian life. The book begins by introducing, Seti I, the living god and the father of Ramesses II. A brief history about the Old Kingdom melds into an explanation of the craftsmanship involved in building and decorating tombs, which flows naturally into a description of the beliefs and ceremonies surrounding death.


A Treacherous Curseby Deanna Raybourn

The vivacious Veronica Speedwell, lepidopterist extraordinaire and amateur sleuth, sets off on another adventure with Stoker, her handsome, rugged, tattooed companion. When a photographer and a diadem go missing during an Egyptian archaeological expedition, Veronica discovers that the elusive photographer is Stoker’s former best friend—the man who, years ago, ran off with Stoker’s wife and left him for dead. With Stoker as the primary suspect for the photographer’s disappearance, the duo take it upon themselves to unearth what really happened in Egypt, but—to Stoker’s chagrin—that includes digging up skeletons of his own.


 Mummy Catby Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Lisa Brown

In quiet rhyme on a moonlit night, readers step inside an Egyptian pyramid where something is waking up: “A cat / who moves without a breath: / a mummy cat, who’s passed through Death.” Once a century he wakes to see if the girl queen Hat-shup-set, “his loving friend,” has returned from the underworld, so that they can be together again. As he moves though the chambers, he passes beautifully painted murals that depict scenes of his life with the queen—playing by the Nile, napping in her lap—as well as their untimely deaths. Mummy Cat prowls until he reaches Hat-shup-set’s coffin to await “the queen of his heart.” Will this be the night she returns?


 The Iron Tombby Peter Vegas

When a novel opens with a boy using a human thigh bone to dig his way out from being buried alive in a sand-filled tunnel, readers get an idea of the dark, creative thrills to come. Every summer, 13-year-old Sam Force has traveled to Egypt to assist his uncle Jasper with research on mummies, tombs, and ancient treasures. This summer, however, when he steps off the plane, he is rushed into police custody and told that his uncle stole money from the government and disappeared. Sam sets off through the deserts, sewers, and cities of Egypt on a self-guided mission to discover who framed his uncle and why.


Hammy and Gerbee: Mummies at the Museumby Wong Herbert Yee

Hammy and Gerbee, hamster and gerbil best friends, head into their new school year harried by a pair of sister mice, Anna and Hanna. Meeting their new teacher, Miss Capybara, taking spelling tests, and going on a field trip to the museum to study ancient Egypt, Hammy and Gerby give as good as they get, trading tricks and jokes with the sisters. But then, disguised as mummies, the two stumble on a plot to steal a valuable sarcophagus and foil it with the help of Miss Capybara for a triumphant and amusing finish.



About the Author:

A former Booklist intern and current Booklist reviewer, Ellie is a reader and writer based in Chicago. She holds a BA in writing from Wheaton College (IL) and is the assistant to the president at Browne & Miller Literary Associates.

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