Back again for another Caroline B. Cooney romp, and the FINAL novel of the Time Traveler’s Quartet. Remember how the last time we saw Strat he was heading to Egypt with his two friends from the mental hospital? Well, Annie is set on finding him but somehow manages to fall back to ancient Egypt. Strat, working on excavations in Egypt…well, I forget, but I think he’s pulled back by time too? Maybe he hears her calling through the ages? We can assume it’s something like that. The book ended on a somewhat open-ended note, which bothered me to no end as a kid, but I have since found out that Cooney intended to continue the series but her publisher refused, or something. Probably cuz Annie and Strat suck.
Will Annie still be a completely awful human being? Will Strat still be an idiot? Will his hare-lipped friend and mentally disabled friend from the previous novel be written out cuz they aren’t pretty? Let’s find out!
Childhood Rating: 5 out of 5 anachronistic details
It’s 1999 and Annie Lockwood’s idiot mother just remarried Annie’s dumbass father. Remember how Dad cheated on Mom with his coworker, but Dad wanted to be with both the co-worker and Mom? Well sometime in there I guess the parents divorced and now Annie’s mom is taking dad back cuz of course you take back a person who’s only with you cuz his mistress wasn’t satisfied with having to share him. Andddd this book is off to a fabulous start! With her parents away on a four-day honeymoon, Annie decides to take advantage of the lack of parental supervision to go to an Egyptian exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see a photo of an 1899 excavation, hoping Strat will be in the picture. Annie cements her place in my mind as being The Worst when she thinks about how much she usually hates museum trips because they’re boring, and I wanna punch her cuz The Met is one of my favorite places. God Annie, sorry that not everything in life has to do with hot sexy boys being in love with you, deal with it. So, she puts on a hideous bridesmaid dress (why does she have all these period semi-appropriate dresses laying around?) and heads to NYC. At the museum, she rushes to the exhibit, pushes by a boy who is also looking at the photo and finds that Strat is not in the picture. Feeling foolish, she’s all “Oh Strat!”, and the boy she pushed is like “Yeah?” DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN…
In 1899, Strat is in Egypt, haunted by recurring nightmares of being buried alive in a tomb. He’s been photographing excavations with archaeologist Dr. Lightner. He sends money to Katie, the girl from the asylum, but knows she wants love more than money. Unfortunately for everyone, there’s a description of how Strat’s heart is dead and desiccated like a mummy and I want to poke my eyes out. For some reason, Strat’s come to the conclusion that since a new century is about to begin he only has until midnight on December 31, 1899 to travel through time and find Annie. It’s silly.
Camilla Mateusz, a Polish girl whose hardworking father was murdered, dresses as a man to make a living in 1899. After Hiram Stratton, Sr., burned down one of his mills while her father was still inside, her mother and six siblings struggle to get by. She finds a job with a private detective agency looking for a man to masquerade as a woman to get information on unfaithful wives. She’s a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. It’s silly. When her boss assigns her to find Strat on Hiram Stratton, Sr.’s command, Camilla jumps at the chance to thwart a happy reunion for the man who killed her father. She travels to Spain where Katie is working at a hospital for lepers and refuses to believe the kind and generous picture Katie paints of Strat. Camilla is sure the son must be as dastardly as the father, and plans to head to Egypt. Once there she introduces herself to Dr. Lightner, claiming to be interested in writing an article on his work.
In ancient Egypt, 14-year-old Renifer, Princess Meresankh’s handmaiden, is excited about her upcoming marriage to the handsome Pankh, a royal wharf supervisor. Her father Pen-Meru, like Thomas Boleyn, has loftier aspirations for his daughter now that she’s earned the favor of the princess. He intends to end Renifer’s engagement to Pankh in the hopes that the Pharaoh Khufu will become smitten with her. Pankh overhears this exchange and threatens Renifer’s father with a statue of the lion goddess Sekhmet. Renifer’s father backs down, but the confrontation shakes Renifer, who feels there is more going on than her father and fiancé have told her.
Annie quickly realizes that 1999 Strat doesn’t recognize her, informing her that 1899 Strat took the photo and wanting to know how Annie knows about 1899 Strat. He says his name is Lockwood Stratton, and he is Devonny’s great-grandson…which…why is his last name Stratton, then? Anyway, he says he’s there researching his great-uncle, but Annie is still convinced this boy is her Strat. As they lunch together in the museum, Annie feels the tugging of Time threatening to pull her back into its depths. She materializes not in 1899 Egypt, but ancient Egypt, appearing right in front of Renifer and Pankh while they’re on a hot date on the Nile. The couple immediately think Annie’s a lost spirit and Pankh utters the name of the late queen. When they see Annie’s light skin, they realize she’s not a queen, but possibly a slave. Pankh wants to leave Annie in the river, but Renifer insists on pulling Annie into the boat and giving her food and drink. Annie gobbles down whatever Renifer hands her and then takes a nap. Falling through time never made her ravenously hungry or sleepy before so it’s odd to me that, having turned up God knows where, she immediately chomps down food handed to her by strangers and passes out in their boat. Like, girl, if you wake up missing a limb it’s your own damn fault. Renifer bribes Annie with her newest jewelry (which father tells her not to wear often to hide his success) and dresses her in Egyptian garb. She has a wonderful dinner with Renifer’s family, notices Renifer’s dad making dagger-eyes at Pankh, and can’t wait to tell Strat all she’s seen.
Strat, still firmly in 1899, unwittingly discovers the tomb of Hetepheres, the queen whom Pankh called to when Annie appeared. Excitement over the tomb’s discovery dampens when they find it seems to have been looted. All that remains is the sarcophagus, heavy furniture, and a solitary decorative sandal. Camilla notices someone must have worn it because the sole is scraped, and she and Dr. Lightner flirt a bit and it’s boring. Later, in the hubbub surrounding the discovery, Camilla steals the golden slipper and plants it in Strat’s belongings. In all this time, after speaking with him, reading his selfless notes to Katie, seeing his lack of material objects, the dolt still can’t put together that Strat is nothing like his father. She’s still bent on revenge against Hiram Stratton, Sr. She knows Strat will be left to die in an Egyptian prison and will never reunite with his father once the sandal is discovered. Camilla’s misguided view of Strat is brought crumbling down when Hiram Stratton, Sr. arrives at the party Dr. Lightner invited her to, proclaiming his intention to take Strat back to America to be incarcerated. Camilla finally sees how her bias clouded her judgment of Strat
Renifer tells Pankh to take her and Annie to the pyramids, as Annie’s been gesturing to them and probably wants to see them. Annie is astonished at the gorgeous architecture, not at all like the ruins of the pyramids in 1999. Renifer sees a temple priest acting strangely, running away and covering his face. Soon after they see blood and two temple police, badly wounded, appear and say the name of Renifer’s father. Pankh takes out his dagger and Renifer is proud that her fiancé is brave enough to go after the attackers, until he straight up murders the police. In the tomb is her father, who thanks Pankh, and Renifer realizes they are tomb robbers. Pankh and Pen-Meru conspire to tell Pharaoh that they caught the tomb robbers and are moving his mother’s body and belongings to the tomb. They plan to have a grand ceremony of reburial and give Annie to the Pharaoh as a gift, all to distract him from analyzing the situation too closely and discovering their guilt.
Annie dresses in fine clothes and GOLD SANDALS, carried on a sedan with Renifer. Renifer gestures to Annie to be silent, and Annie smiles and nods, and Renifer also shows her not to smile. Renifer sings and performs rites while Pharaoh admires Annie and her pale skin. Pharaoh then decides to place Annie in his mother’s tomb to serve her for eternity and commands Renifer to be Annie’s escort. Everyone has seen how Annie’s enamored with everything gold so they bedeck her in beautiful jewelry to keep her ignorant of what awaits. Since Annie is a materialistic beauty-obsessed airhead, she falls for it. Like the moron she is, Annie’s disappointed when she’s lowered into the tomb and sees no gold. When she looks back, she sees rocks lowered into the shaft to the tomb, sealing her and Renifer inside for all eternity.
Will Camilla be able to help Strat escape his father’s clutches? Will Annie and Renifer escape the tomb? Will Annie and Strat ever interact in this book about their love? A love built up over the course of like, three days spread across centuries. What if they wind up together and, spending more than a handful of scattered hours together, realize they’re actually not that into each other? Okay, maybe I’m getting a little too deep.
I like this book way more than the previous Annie/Strat adventures for a few reasons. First, instead of only getting third person narratives about Annie and Strat, we have chapters focusing on Camilla and Renifer. This means less time listening to how much Annie and Strat love each other and fantasize about each other. Less of hearing Annie pitying all the ugly girls and admiring her own beauty. Less of Strat’s self-loathing. Even his self-loathing was less off-putting this time because instead of hating himself for loving Annie over Harriet, he hated himself for abandoning Katie to pursue his own pleasures. In fact, instead of thinking of Annie, he thinks of Katie most of the time! Not because he’s in love with her, but rather because he appreciates what a kind person she is and he wants to do right by her. Secondly, including ancient Egypt as another setting in this novel reinvigorated the series. There’s something more sinister about a Pharaoh who can seal you in a tomb forever than a bloated captain of industry who wants to put you in prison. Third, the Annie/Strat interaction is minimal, so there’s less of them mooning over each other and being gross as hell. Maybe Cooney had complaints about all these things, learned from it, and avoided those points in this novel. One can hope. The ending left me wanting more, but then I remembered the first two books in the series and was like, “Nope, this if a fine ending”.
Adulthood Rating: 3 out 5 golden sandals