This fantasy book by Rick Riordan is the first in the "Kane Chronicles" series and is published by Disney-Hyperion, a division of the Disney Book Group.
The Red Pyramid is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Since the death of his mother, 14-year-old Carter Kane has traveled the world with his archaeologist father. Carter's 12-year-old sister, Sadie, lives in London with her grandparents. When Julius and Carter pay their semi-annual visit to England, the three go to the British Museum where the Rosetta Stone is on display. Their father tries to summon Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead, by writing hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone with his wand. But instead of Osiris appearing, the Rosetta Stone explodes, and a fiery being emerges. It conjures a golden sarcophagus around their father, and the sarcophagus sinks into the floor and disappears. The fiery being threatens Sadie and Carter, but disappears when Zia and Desjardins, magicians from the House of Life, arrive. Zia and Desjardins are magicians who are a part of an ancient society that dates back to the time of the pharaohs.
Back at their grandparents' house, Sadie and Carter must answer questions asked by the police about the missing Rosetta Stone. A man dressed in black arrives, and they learn he is their father's brother, their Uncle Amos. He tricks the police and summons a magical boat that transports him, the children and Sadie's cat, Muffin, to his mansion in New York. There, they are introduced to Uncle Amos' unusual pets (a baboon and an albino crocodile) and learn about their own magical heritage. They also learn that their father released several Egyptian gods and goddesses, including Set, the god of chaos and desert storms. Carter believes that to save his father, he must stop Set by the end of "Demon Days," five days that the sky goddess added to the end of the Egyptian year.
When Uncle Amos leaves on a journey to Phoenix, the mansion is destroyed by serpopards (cat-serpent monsters). The Kanes are rescued by Sadie's cat, which is a host for the Egyptian cat goddess, Bast. A "host" can be any living creature that is indwelled by a god. The gods can possess a host, making it do their will, or they can work with their host.
The scorpion goddess pursues the Kanes until Zia opens a portal to the Cairo airport and the headquarters of the House of Life. There they meet the chief lector of the House of Life.
Desjardins is suspicious of the Kanes' connection to the gods because magicians have kept the gods imprisoned for centuries. Sadie and Carter learn that they have become hosts for Isis and Horus, respectively, when their father summoned the gods at the Rosetta Stone. This explains why Sadie has the ability to read hieroglyphs and Carter displays unusual talent in magical combat. The siblings' souls (or bas) regularly leave their bodies while they sleep and travel through the Duat (a supernatural world that exists beneath the physical world), where they witness various occurrences from the past and present. Carter sees Set building a red pyramid inside a desert cave near Phoenix. Set is amassing an army of demons. He hopes to use them to reintroduce chaos to the world with them. Carter also sees Uncle Amos being captured by Set's minions.
When the chief lector of the House of Life dies of old age less than 24 hours after the siblings' arrival, Desjardins becomes chief lector, and at Zia's urging, Sadie and Carter flee for their lives. They open a portal to Paris and find Bast waiting for them. They thought the scorpion goddess had killed Bast.
Sadie and Carter transform into birds and break into Desjardin's Parisian home to find a book containing crucial information about how to defeat Set. After finding the book, they are pursued by an army of fruit bats and several magicians. They escape by teleporting to the Washington Monument, where Sadie's bas meets with the sky goddess, who gives instructions to go to Memphis, Tenn., in search of Thoth, the god of wisdom.
With the Set animal (a monster that shares Set's cunning, strength and evil nature) on their heels, Sadie, Carter and Bast take an airplane to Memphis. (The site of their last portal, the Washington Monument, requires a cool-down period before it can be used again.) The sky goddess warns Sadie's spirit that the Set animal is pursuing them. It follows them from the Washington Monument to the airport, where mortals mistake it for a rabid moose. Bast and Sadie board the plane, and Carter fights the Set animal in the terminal. He traps it in the Duat and hurries to board the plane.
Thoth sends Sadie, Carter and Bast to Elvis Presley's home in Graceland, where they fight shabti (animated clay or wax figures that can appear to be real humans or animals). They survive, and Thoth tells them that to defeat Set, they need to take a boat to the Land of the Dead and convince the jackal-headed god, Anubis, to give them a feather of truth. Anubis asks Sadie if she would let her father die in order to save the world from chaos. She says she would, and Anubis gives her the feather.
Sobek, the crocodile god, mounts an attack. Uncle Amos' albino crocodile appears and distracts Sobek long enough for the Kanes to escape, but Bast is killed. She uses her last shreds of energy to spare her host, Sadie's cat. Uncle Amos also reappears. He had been captured by Set and escaped.
Desjardins catches up with Sadie and Carter. Zia summons a pillar of fire to chase him away, but not before Desjardins summons a giant fiery woman, who continues the pursuit. Carter tells her that huge vats of salsa are filled with human blood, and she gorges herself on salsa until she turns into a cow.
A storm brews in Phoenix, and the end of the Demon Days approaches. As Carter, Sadie, Uncle Amos and Zia travel to Phoenix via transport truck, Zia suggests that Uncle Amos is possessed by Set. She tells Sadie to perform the incantation that will destroy Set, but Sadie refuses.
Together, they storm Set's demon-guarded pyramid, which is nearing completion. Once inside, Set reveals that he did possess Uncle Amos and engages Carter in combat. His father, who hosts Osiris, remains trapped in the sarcophagus at the pyramid's base. Carter taps into Horus' strength to fight Set, but is losing badly. With the help of Isis, Sadie opens a portal between Phoenix and Washington, and transports the entire pyramid away from the desert and Set's source of power.
Weakened, Set is about to be destroyed by Sadie's incantation when she catches a glimpse of the serpent Apophis in the clouds, waiting to use the pyramid as a portal into the world. Sadie chooses to make a deal with Set and destroy the pyramid, killing her father, but saving earth from a chaotic force. Zia's true identity as a shabti is revealed after the fight. The chief lector of the House of Life had hidden the real Zia somewhere safe, as she hosts the goddess Nephthys. Both Carter and Sadie voluntarily release Isis and Horus, a move that convinces Desjardins to leave them alone (at least temporarily).
They meet their parents in the Hall of Judgment, which is in the Duat, and their father reveals that he needed to die to restore Osiris to his throne as the god of the dead. Both believed that releasing the gods was a necessary step to defeat the rising forces of chaos. To show their thankfulness, the gods rebuild Uncle Amos' ruined mansion and resurrect Bast. The Kanes set off looking for other descendants of the pharaohs to join their cause.
Christian beliefs are loosely incorporated. Uncle Amos explains that Egyptian gods aren't divine in the sense that one would normally think of God, but are themselves created beings.
After their mother's death and a protracted custody fight, Sadie lives with her grandparents in England while Carter travels the world with his archaeologist father. Sadie feels abandoned by her father, although it is later revealed that the siblings' separation is for their own benefit. Sadie and Carter's parents sacrifice their lives for what they believe to be the greater good. As their souls can't be destroyed, they continue parenting Sadie and Carter from the Duat.
Other belief systems
The premise of this story is that ancient Egyptian gods, magicians, monsters, demons and other supernatural forces of chaos are still at work in the world today. Sadie and Carter are descendants of the pharaohs. They also host Isis and Horus, and are engaged in a constant battle for control of their bodies with their godly counterparts. They reach their maximum potential while working as one with these gods, but risk being taken over completely by them. Human hosts are known as godlings, but gods can also possess animals. Sadie, Carter and Bast wear amulets with the emblems of the gods they host. Uncle Amos is also possessed against his will by Set, who controls his actions.
Obelisks and pyramids, even modern ones, act as portals into the Duat, which is described as a supernatural world that exists beneath the physical world. The Duat has many layers, and magicians and other magical beings can travel through certain layers to move quickly from one place to another. They can also use the Duat as an instantly accessible storage locker or as a prison. Magic headrests prevent the soul from slipping into the Duat while the body is asleep.
Egyptian gods are described as primal, created forces. Rather than good and evil, their natures reflect order and chaos. The gods can assume human, animal or hybrid forms. This reflects their ability to inhabit physical and spiritual worlds simultaneously. While fighting, the gods form a giant, glowing avatar around their hosts, allowing them to be more powerful. Magicians do not worship the gods.
Shabti are wax or clay figures that come to life. They are not always distinguishable from real humans or animals. Uncle Amos' albino crocodile and Zia are both shabti. Conjured creatures, including scorpions, fruit bats, crocodiles, shabti, and various monsters pursue Sadie and Carter.
Magic is performed by writing hieroglyphs with a curved wand and chanting incantations. Zia opens a portal by drawing a circle and placing various objects on the four points of the compass.
Bible stories are redefined or referred to out of context. After disintegrating the serpopards, Bast says that from sand they come and to sand they return — a reference to Genesis 3:19. Moses is referred to as the only foreign magician who has ever defeated the House of Life in a duel. Julius turns his staff into a serpent in an attempt to subdue Set, who disintegrates the snake, calling it an old trick. Zia's shabti summons a pillar of fire in the Arizona desert, similar to the pillar that guided the Israelites. The pillar is said to be a powerful spell that can lead the summoner toward a goal or pursue and consume an enemy force.
The book ends with Carter and Sadie issuing an invitation to the reader to follow the path of the gods.
Sadie makes frequent use of the British epithet bloody. She also takes God's name in vain several times. Invented profanity includes the use of terms such as Thoth's beak and Thank Thoth.
Throughout the many attacks, ambushes and hand-to-hand combat, little blood is spilled because gods and monsters either disintegrate or are imprisoned in the Duat. Zia engulfs Serquet in flames, but she appears unharmed. Sekhmet is described as a slaying machine. She kills her enemies and feasts on their blood.
Some monsters are hacked into small pieces to prevent them from re-forming. Magical staffs morph into shotguns. Zia's staff shoots flames. Opening portals can be a violent and dangerous process. The siblings' mother died freeing Bast from the Duat. She used all her magical power to open a portal.
The Egyptian gods have a violent and macabre history. Magicians imprison gods and monsters together in the Duat. A monster spends all its time fighting an individual god and has no time to escape. Ammit the Devourer eats the hearts of the dead who are tested by the feather of truth and found wanting. Set imprisons Osiris in a glowing casket. Thoth tells Sadie and Carter that Isis and Horus have a violent past: Isis stabbed out Horus' eye, and Horus cut off Isis' head.
Sadie's schoolmates think Carter is hot. Carter is attracted to Zia, Nephthys' host. He cradles her shabti's head as it dies. Sadie describes Anubis as "drop-dead gorgeous." Because their hosts are not permanent, but mortal, relationships among the gods are convoluted. For example, if two hosts are a sister and a brother, but one dies, the same god can take on a new host and be born to the sister as a son.
School Library Journal Best Book of 2010; The New York Times bestseller for 32 weeks; Children's Choice Book Award, 2011
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Why does Sadie feel abandoned by her father?
How does this affect her relationship with Carter?
What misconceptions do Sadie and Carter hold about each other's lives, and how do they resolve these issues?
Have you ever been treated differently than one of your siblings?
How did this make you feel?
- Uncle Amos says that Egyptian gods don't represent the forces of good and evil, but of order and chaos.
How does this differ from the God of the Bible?
How would Christianity be different if we believed that order were the highest good?
When have you experienced circumstances that were orderly but not good?
When have you been in a chaotic environment that wasn't evil?
- Throughout the story, Egyptian gods possess animals and people.
How is this possession similar to demon possession as described in the Bible?
- Sadie and Carter meet their parents in the Hall of Judgment. There, Anubis weighs the hearts of the deceased. Ammit the Devourer eats the hearts of the wicked.
Compare the Egyptian vision of the afterlife to what the Bible teaches.
- Sadie's parents make choices that lead to their deaths.
How would you feel if your parents sacrificed their lives for something they believed to be necessary?
When Sadie pronounces Set's name, the red pyramid collapses and her father is killed.
Is Sadie responsible for her father's death?
How would it affect you if your actions led to the death of someone else?
Immodesty: Uncle Amos' baboon, a basketball-playing animal, wears a Lakers jersey that partially exposes his colorful backside. Sadie's cat regularly transforms into a goddess who wears a skintight, leopard-skin jumpsuit. After a particularly intense battle sequence, Desjardins' pink boxers are visible through his tattered robes.
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