Sunday, July 1, 2012

Review: THE FORTIETH DOOR by Mary Hastings Bradley

book cover
Original Publication Date: 1920

Genre: adventure

Topics: love, destiny


An American archaeologist with the appropriately dashing name of Jack Ryder prefers mummies over conversing with living people, until his friend Jinny forces him to go to a masquerade ball. There he meets a mysterious woman wearing veils, which he assumes is her costume (clearly he didn't get the memo about "sexy" being the keyword in women's costumes). They dance together and fall in love, but when Jack walks the woman home, he realizes she's a Muslim, and would therefore never be allowed to date a Westerner. Or date at all, really. Depressed, he returns to his mummies, only to find evidence that Aimée isn't the daughter of a Turk, but a Frenchman (she's a secret Christian! hardy har). Quote-unquote evidence in hand, he sets out to rescue her from the clutches of the man her stepfather has promised her to, Hamdi Bey.

As soon as I read Chris' review of The Fortieth Door (review here) and she mentioned there was a mummy, I knew I had to read it. HAD TO. It's basically a retelling of Romeo & Juliet--from the ball where Jack and Aimée meet to Aimée's fake death. For the most part I really enjoyed this novel, even though there were times when the dialog went on and on drove me crazy. The setting was absolutely fabulous; and even though Mary Hastings Bradley is obviously very critical of the way Eastern women are treated and makes Aimée Western to what I thought was an improbable degree, I loved reading about her wedding, which was definitely the highlight of the book.

Bradley lived in Egypt and while this IS the type of book where all the Arabs and Africans are evil, at the same time I think you can tell she had an admiration and respect for the culture. Although the British run Egypt, Bradley doesn't pretend they're the only people who inhabit it--the country is filled with Turks, Ethiopians, French, Egyptians, Muslims and Christians who all have to put with each other. And if the behavior of Jack Ryder is anything to go by, Americans can be pretty difficult to put up with.

As for the story, it's a freaking blast. Not that it necessarily makes sense--I'm still not sure how Jack added one and one together and came up with "Aimée isn't really a Turk and I need to rescue her," but whatever. Dashing archaeologist guy is gonna do what he's gonna do! Honestly, I really liked all the characters, including Jack, and especially the villain, Hamdi Bey. He was moustache-twirlingly awesome. Now THERE'S a villain, bishes.

The Fortieth Door is kinda like Brigadoon--you just have to go with it. In fact, I can't BELIEVE this book hasn't been made into a musical yet. They wouldn't even have to write new songs for it, they could just use ones that already exist. Imagining the characters in the book I'm reading dancing around and singing amuses me muchly.

Can you tell I had fun reading this book yet? I truly think The Fortieth Door is a perfect summer read. It has everything: romance, mummies, illegal activities, dungeons, men in kilts, cheesy show tune potential. It goes by really fast and you don't even have to pay that close attention to most of it--in fact, it's probably better if you don't. But it is really entertaining. I think Chris' speculation that Bradley was the Dan Brown of her time pretty much sums this book up.