Okay, so first, The Egypt Game isn’t a fantasy novel. You might have known that already.
This is a MG story about a handful of kids, about eleven years old or so, who get deeply involved in playing an imagination-based game in which they pretend to be ancient Egyptians. It’s a story with lots of charm and, for an adult reader who can perhaps see the events coming rather far in advance, low tension. There’s a threat, but I hardly think any reader of any age is going to imagine that any of the named characters might actually get killed or anything, and, spoiler, they are indeed all fine.
However, I can help reduce the stress further. Ready?
Every time someone could be mean, they aren’t.
There you go, a charming MG story, showcasing the kind of imaginative game that possibly some of us can recall developing when we were that age, only more so, plus a plot that centers friendship and just skips over the potential of kids to be mean to each other.
April is a newcomer to this town; her mother, uninterested in raising a child, has just dumped her on her paternal grandmother. This is sad, of course, and April is upset. She rejects her grandmother’s tentative efforts to be friends, instead putting on lots of airs about her movie star mother who will soon come to take her back home. (Her mother is not a movie star.) April is therefore all set to be miserable, but right away, she meets Melanie.
Melanie is a sociable, friendly girl who happens to like imaginative games. So does April. They almost immediately become best friends. Having happened upon a fenced and abandoned back lot, with a bust of Nefertiti among the random abandoned junk in the lot, they start the Egypt game, making props to turn the lot into Egypt and a shed into a shrine to Nefertiti and it all goes on from there. But for me, the event that actually sets the tone for the story is that Melanie carefully plans how to prevent April from being ostracized at her new school, and yep, that works, and we just step neatly around a huge potential source of tension and unhappiness.
That kind of thing keeps happening. Also, the problem in the background, April being rejected by her mother and then rejecting her grandmother, constitutes one plot arc, and that comes to a satisfying conclusion. Nearly all the various subplots do wind up in good places. There is, warning in case you want zero tension, a murder in the neighborhood and this has a big effect on the plot and leads to the climax. Therefore there is a little tension. But all this is background for the actual story about friendship and the role of imaginative play in this particular friendship.
I liked the story a lot, though certainly not as much as Below the Root / And All Between. Wow, just typing the titles brings back memories! I read these two as a duology long before I read the third book, Until the Celebration, which to me seemed to unnecessarily re-tread old ground, reintroducing problems that were settled in a satisfying way at the end of the second book. I didn’t hate it, but I kind of prefer to treat this series as a duology plus an unnecessary extra. The first two stand out for me as close to my very favorite stories when I was a kid.
There’s a sequel to The Egypt Game called The Gypsy Game. Maybe I’ll read that one next.