The Purple Scarab is the first book in The League of the Sphinx series, written by Richard Ellis Preston. Preston is best known for his epic, high-flying steampunk series, The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin. In this new series, Preston takes his story to a young adult audience and throws together the realms of magic and history for an enjoyable first novel.
The Purple Scarab follows Edmund Peabody, grandson of the great archaeologist Colonel Percival Peabody, in a race for magical Egyptian artifacts before the Nazis can get their hands on them and use them to win the Second World War.
With the story’s underlying magical theme, it poses an interesting question – What if the Nazis gained control of magical artifacts that could help them conquer and dominate the world? Edmund and his friends set out to stop it from happening, all the while fleeing from enemies into pyramids, talking to ghosts, and using ancient magical powers.
The novel starts out strong as our characters hunt for treasure, only to be foiled by Colonel Peabody’s nemesis and competitor, Strasser. The pace slows down a bit during the middle of the story, but it picks up again towards the conclusion with a race against the Nazis to save one of history’s most prominent men – Winston Churchill.
All of the characters were well written, each of them with their own quirks and personalities. Edmund Peabody isn’t a terribly complex protagonist, but the story flows through his perspective well enough. Supporting character’s Chander Peabody and Amelia Tripp also had their compelling moments and their adventure with Edmund made for a fun read. Colonel Peabody and his relationship with antagonist Strasser helped to make the hunt for the artifacts more personal. I hope to learn more about their troubled past in future novels.
Preston’s writing style is known for vivid descriptions and climactic settings from his steampunk series, but he tones it down for this novel. While I preferred his writing style in The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zepplin, the tonal shift makes sense since this new series is written for a younger audience.
With magical artifacts, mummies, ghosts, and enemies around every corner, The Purple Scarab is a good start to the League of the Sphinx series. Anyone who enjoys treasure hunting and history spiced with magic would do well to try it out.