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Scarabus    by Karen Koehler order for
by Karen Koehler
Order:  USA  Can
Black Death, 2002 (2002)

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* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

The Cult of the Scarabaous has been in existence since the dawn of time and followers believe that if they transform their chosen vessel into a manifestation of their dark and hungry god, they will control it and thus control their land and perhaps the world. This story is set three thousand years ago, during the golden age of the Egyptian civilization when the secretive and powerful Cult is alive and well, members having infiltrated every level of the vast kingdom. It is now again time to set in motion the resurrection of their dark god to do their bidding.

Tjanefer is an eighteen year old farmer's son with visions of becoming one of the King's tomb painters, but his lowly status makes it unlikely that he will achieve his ambition. He is in love with a neighbor's beautiful daughter, Aneksi, and during their frequent encounters they discuss their love for one another, their life's dreams, and their resentment over the fact that Aneksi is promised to another. But when her betrothed suddenly dies, they are free to wed. Jan and Miw, as he calls his wife, settle into their home and their new life, blissfully unaware that their happiness will not last, that indeed, their entire lives, from birth until the moment of their union, was a careful manipulation.

Cult members use a series of lies to lure Jan to Karnak. They entice him to do their bidding thereby assuring themselves that he is truly 'the one'. Once he passes their tests, they inform him of his imminent transformation. Jan is horrified and furious, even more so when he discovers his own father is a prominent member of the cult. But despite Jan's anger and threats that they will never force him to do their bidding, that even if they take his body, they will never enslave his free will, there is nowhere to run. In a bloody ritual that is as grotesque as it is fascinating, Tjanefer is transformed into the immortal demon.

When he awakens from his metamorphosis and understands his true powers, and also what he must do to sustain his existence, he wastes little time in making the cult members pay for what they have done to him. Pronouncing himself the demon Scarabus, he shows them as little mercy as they did to him during the gruesome ritual when he begged for his life. He returns home to his Miw. To his additional horror, Jan discovers that he's actually been held captive for three years during which time she remarried. Thinking he can reclaim his old life, Scarabus sets out to destroy Miw's husband; yet he cannot escape the attention of the Cult who are more determined than ever to re-capture their escaped Demon and force him back into their evil control even if it takes another 3000 years.

Karen Kohler has created a story that is very well written, shows a love of Egyptian history and lore, and is often lyrical in its telling. A series of flashbacks from present to past, and told from various points of view, show how a young man's innocence is forcibly wrenched from him. His passion for his wife is a continuing theme throughout the story. This human part of Scarabus's character balances nicely with his demonic side as we see him searching for a cure to the immortality he despises so that he may reclaim his lost soul and be reunited with his beloved Miw.

Kohler also puts a nice fresh spin on the traditional 'bug story' - frequent artfully written scenes where she shows Scarabus transforming from man to a seething mass of flesh-eating beetles literally make the skin crawl. So be warned - though Koehler strikes a careful balance and doles such scenes out with a careful hand, this is not a tale for the squeamish. For readers who like classic horror stories tales delivered with a twist, Scarabus is not to be missed.

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