Friday, June 30, 2017

Video Friday: Ted-ED takes on Ancient Egypt

TED is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan "ideas worth spreading". TED was founded in February 1984 as a conference, which has been held annually since 1990. The TED-Ed project — TED's education initiative — makes short video lessons worth sharing, aimed at educators and students. Within TED-Ed’s growing library of lessons, you will find carefully curated educational videos, many of which are collaborations between educators and animators nominated through the TED-Ed platform.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Ancient Egypt June 26

Oh my goodness, there are so many articles on Ancient Egypt this week  So, here we go with lots of news about the new Grand Egyptian Museum.

Tutankhamun artefacts moved to Grand Egyptian Museum ahead of soft opening in 2018

Mummified dates, grains and small model boats were among the objects moved in this most recent batch, an operation that required careful packing and essential restoration work.

Ministry of Antiquities studies using solar energy in GEM

CAIRO – 20 June 2017: Ministry of Antiquities is mulling the installation of renewable energy solar power in the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in addition to discussing ways of transporting heavy antiquities from Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to GEM, according to general supervisor for GEM project Tarek Tawfik.

Ancient Egyptians may have given cats the personality to conquer the world
Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford/Bridgeman Images

Around 1950 B.C.E., someone painted an unusual creature on the back wall of a limestone tomb some 250 kilometers south of Cairo. With its long front legs, upright tail, and triangular head staring down an approaching field rat, it is unmistakably a domestic cat—the first appearance in the art of ancient Egypt. In the centuries that followed, cats became a fixture of Egyptian paintings and sculptures, and were even immortalized as mummies, as they rose in status from rodent killer to pet to god.

The Mummy Returns: Egyptian Dignitary's Face and Brain Reconstructed

An international team of researchers has reconstructed the face and brain of a 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummy, revealing a unique "packing" embalming treatment.

Consisting of a well-preserved head and canopic jars containing internal organs, the remains belong to Nebiri, an Egyptian dignitary who lived under the reign of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Thutmoses III (1479–1425 B.C.).

Egypt's sunken antiquities threatened by ship waste
Photo by: AP (Archive )

Oil spills and waste pose harm to Alexandria's ruins, including one of the seven wonders of the ancient world - Pharos Lighthouse. Archaeologist plan on displaying the treasures of the fabled city, but only if the antiquities remain undamaged.

The Grand Egyptian Museum – A Bridge between Ages

The long-anticipated Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) is set to open officially in May 2018. However, it may partly open ahead of schedule, thanks to a challenging schedule of works.

The Grand Egyptian Museum will be situated adjacent to the Giza Plateau within two kilometres of the Giza pyramids. The GEM project is one of the largest and most significant in process globally. Its total land area extends to 491,000 square metres, with theGrand Egyptian Museum Waleed Abdel-Fattah buildings taking up 168,000 square metres. Once completed it will be a world-leading scientific, historical and archaeological study centre. The museum is set to open in May 2018.

Ancient Tomb of Gold Worker Found Along Nile River

A 3,400-year-old tomb holding the remains of more than a dozen possibly mummified people has been discovered on Sai Island, along the Nile River in northern Sudan.

Archaeologists discovered the tomb in 2015, though it wasn't until 2017 that a team with the AcrossBorders archaeological research project fully excavated the site.

Ancient Egyptian "billboard" could rewrite history of hieroglyphs

Archaeologists from Yale and the Royal Museums of Art and History in Belgium have discovered an ancient Egyptian "billboard" that might turn back the clock on when the hieroglyphic writing system was thought to be introduced to the general population. The huge inscriptions date back to about 3,250 BCE, and show a form of writing that was thought to only be used by the ruling class at that time.

Also see Yale archaeologists discover earliest monumental Egyptian hieroglyphs for a more detailed report.

Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan
© The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Nachom Selpak

For three centuries, Egyptians ruled the land of Canaan. Armies of chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers under the pharaoh Thutmose III thundered through Gaza and defeated a coalition of Canaanite chiefdoms at Megiddo, in what is now northern Israel, in 1458 B.C. The Egyptians then built fortresses, mansions, and agricultural estates from Gaza to Galilee, taking Canaan’s finest products—copper from Dead Sea mines, cedar from Lebanon, olive oil and wine from the Mediterranean coast, along with untold numbers of slaves and concubines—and sending them overland and across the Mediterranean and Red Seas to Egypt to please its elites.

‘The Mummy’ could have been great if it had been about Ahmanet

This year’s The Mummy turned out to be a wasted opportunity, but what if it had starred Sofia Boutella as princess Ahmanet, in search of power and justice in Ancient Egypt?
. . .
If there was anything worth salvaging from the movie, it was Sofia Boutella’s entrancing performance as Ahmanet, the Mummy, which was played up in the trailers only to be terribly mistreated by the film itself.

Salvaging Khufu’s Second Solar Boat

In the scorching heat of the Giza plateau, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and a team from Waseda University in Japan are engaged in the daunting task of lifting a 4,700-year-old wooden ship from a pit in the ground, just a few meters south of Khufu’s great pyramid.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ancient Egypt June 20

A Pharaoh’s Massive Tomb Unveiled
The tomb features sloping passages between chambers. Courtesy Josef Wegner and the Penn Museum

The tomb of King Senwosret III, one of the most renowned pharaohs of ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, is expected to open to the public in about a year or two, allowing tourists to appreciate the architecture of Egyptian builders who constructed the burial complex almost four thousand years ago, according to Dr. Josef Wegner, Associate Curator of the Egyptian Section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum). He has been excavating in Abydos for decades.

Watch: Assassin’s Creed Officially Confirmed to Be Set in Egypt, Trailer Features Siwa, Faiyoum

After much anticipation, Ubisoft has officially confirmed that the latest installation in the Assassin’s Creed franchise will be set in Ancient Egypt, with a trailer and five minutes of gameplay revealed on the Microsoft’s stage during the E3 Expo late Sunday.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins follows the story of Bayek, the “sheriff” in his hometown of Siwa during a time when the Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled Egypt.

A 3,000-Year-Old Treasure Map Is The First 'Geological' Map In History
Fragments of the restored Turin-map. Source Wikipedia, by user J. Harrell, CC BY-SA 4.0, modified.

According to ancient historians, gold was as common as sand in the kingdom of Egypt. By 3,200 BC public officers, called 'sementi', prospected for deposits and veins of gold to meet the demand of the divine pharaoh. Tutankhamun's tomb alone was filled with more than 500 items made of pure gold. However, the origin of all that gold was unknown for a very long time.

Before the bling of Tutankhamun

The overlooked period known as the Middle Kingdom was really Ancient Egypt’s golden age, says John Romer.

If you read the first volume of John Romer’s A History of Egypt, which traces events along the Nile from prehistory to the pyramid age, you will understand why he thinks Egyptology is not a science.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Video Friday: The Sphinx

Today, some videos of one the most iconic statues in the world.

Riddle of the Spinx in Russian

If the subtitles don't appear, run your cusor along the bottom of the screen and click the CC icon shown below. Although  the translation, I grant you, is odd, the art is seriously great.

The Oldest Film Footage of the Sphinx of Giza (1897)

The Enigmatic GREAT SPHINX old pictures

Monday, June 12, 2017

Ancient Egypt June 12

Manchester Museum reviews The Mummy

Mummy movies play an undeniably powerful role in feeding (pre)conceptions about ancient Egypt among the general public, particularly for museum-goers. In my experience of working with school groups in the last ten years, a good deal of time was spent correcting misinformation gleaned from the swashbuckling Brendan Frasier/Rachel Weiss 1999 ‘Mummy’ franchise. To ignore the most recent re-boot, starring Tom Cruise and on general realise from today, would be churlish. Some Egyptologists will simply laugh it off while others will grumble about inaccuracies, perhaps assuming that Egyptology is in some way an exact science or that museums don’t construct their own ‘facts’ about the Egyptians all the time.

Maidstone Mummy

This 2,700-year-old woman is the jewel of the Maidstone Museum's Egyptian collection.

The mummy is the jewel of the Museum’s Egyptian collection, a nearly intact figure resting in the bottom half of a wooden inner coffin (the top half is in museum storage). She is swaddled in burlap, her remarkable hands, feet, torso, and serene face all visible through a glass case.

Tourism, the enemy of archaeology
Zahi Hawass

Tourism can be the enemy of archaeology, but archaeology also cannot be protected without tourism.

The Bulgarian Ministry of Tourism invited me to take part in the International Congress on World Civilisations and Creative Tourism that took place in Sofia at the end of last November.

The Temple of Dendur: Celebrating 50 Years at The Met

On April 28, 1967, United States President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded an ancient Egyptian temple built in the first century B.C.—a gift from Egypt to the United States—to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Today the structure, the Temple of Dendur in The Sackler Wing, is one of the iconic and most beloved works of art at The Met.

Turin’s Egyptian Museum honors Italy’s own Indiana Jones

The prolific team at Turin’s Egyptian Museum never ceases to research and amaze. Its latest ‘excavation site’ was the huge archive of the museum itself, and what it brought to light was the story of one of the institution’s most illustrious figures: archaeologist Ernesto Schiaparelli, museum director and founder of the Italian Archaeological Mission, whose work on Egyptian soil lasted nearly two decades – from 1903 to 1920 – and enriched the Turinese collection no end.

Pharaohs and sphinxes from Lancaster to Penzance: ‘Egypt in England

Note: For more information about the book on which the exhibit is based on, go to the Egypt in England website.

This exhibition does what it says on the tin, really. It’s about Egypt – in England. So, what does that involve? Well, it includes:
  • an Ancient Egyptian god with a power drill;
  • sheep grazing on the roof of a linen mill;
  • a Victorian Earl called Black Jack, allegedly a member of the Hellfire Club, who is buried with his mistress (who he eloped with) in an Egyptian style tomb;
  • the man called ‘The Shakespeare of the Sawdust’ with a grave guarded by sphinxes;
  • another Jack, this time called Mad Jack, who is buried in a pyramid;
  • and England’s (probably the world’s) only Egyptian style cinema organ.

Did children build the ancient Egyptian city of Amarna?
A juvenile burial under excavation at the North Tombs Cemetery, Amarna, Egypt. Photograph: Mary Shepperson/Courtesy of The Amarna Project

New evidence from Akhenaten’s capital suggests that a ‘disposable’ workforce of children and teenagers provided much of the labour for the city’s construction.

There’s a whiff of magic about the site of Tell el-Amarna that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. It’s partly down to the effort of imagination needed to conjure a great capital of ancient Egypt from the sea of low humps stretching between the cultivation and the desert cliffs, and partly the long shadows cast by its founders – the ‘heretic’ pharaoh Akhenaten and his queen Nefertiti.

10 Pharaonic tombs uncovered in Aswan

Ten Late Period tombs have been uncovered near the Aga Khan Mausoleum on the west bank of the Nile River at Aswan governorate, southern Egypt, during the excavation work carried out by an Egyptian archaeological mission from the Ministry of Antiquities.

Mahmoud Afifi, the Head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector at the ministry made the announcement in a press statement.

Letters to the Dead in Ancient Egypt

. . . In ancient Egypt, however, the afterlife was a certainty throughout most of the civilization's history. When one died, one's soul went on to another plane, leaving the body behind, and hoped for justification by the gods and an eternal life in paradise. There was no doubt that this afterlife existed, save during the period of the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE), and even then the literature which expresses cynicism toward the next life could be interpreted as a literary device as easily as a serious theological challenge. The soul of a loved one did not cease to exist at death nor was there any danger of a surprise in the afterlife such as the rich man from Luke experiences.

An exception is in the fictional work from Roman Egypt (30 BCE - 646 CE) known as Setna II, which is the probable basis for the Luke tale. In one part of Setna II, Si-Osire leads his father Setna to the underworld and shows him how a rich man and a poor man experienced the afterlife.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Ancient Egypt June 5

Ancient Egyptians Collected Fossils

Ancient Egyptian worshippers of Set, god of darkness and chaos, collected fossils of extinct beasts by the thousands. From 1300 and 1200 BC, nearly three tons of heavy, black fossils, polished by river sands, were brought to Set shrines on the Nile. Many of the bones were wrapped in linen and placed in rock‑cut tombs.

The immense troves of fossils heaped at Qau el-Kebir and Matmar were discovered in 1922-24 by archaeologists Guy Brunton and Sir Flinders Petrie, stunning evidence that Egyptians revered large stone bones as sacred relics of Set. The god was often associated with the hippopotamus, and many of the fossils belonged to hippos, but remains of extinct crocodiles, boars, horses, giant antelope, and buffalo were also found.

Mummy DNA unravels ancient Egyptians’ ancestry
Petr Bonek/Alamy

Genetic analysis reveals a close relationship with Middle Easterners, not central Africans.

The tombs of ancient Egypt have yielded golden collars and ivory bracelets, but another treasure — human DNA — has proved elusive. Now, scientists have captured sweeping genomic information from Egyptian mummies. It reveals that mummies were closely related to ancient Middle Easterners, hinting that northern Africans might have different genetic roots from people south of the Sahara desert.

Lost Since World War II, Egyptian Artifact Returns to Germany
Credit: © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung/Nina Loschwitz

A vivid, turquoise-colored carving from ancient Egypt has been returned to a Berlin museum more than 70 years after it was thought to have been lost during World War II.

The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees Berlin's state-run museums, announced that the stone slab fragment had been found in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The pitfalls of recreating a pit burial

What colour should the sand be? This was just one of the many things we had to think about when installing the pit burial case for the new Ancient Egypt gallery.

The display shows an example of what a very early Egyptian burial looked like, with the remains buried directly into the ground and surrounded by their possessions.

Em Hotep BSS page

If you like talking about Egypt - and who doesn't? - why not take a look at the Em Hotep BSS page. The topics for this summer are listed below.

Image may contain: 1 person

The only requirement is a keen interest in Egypt, the ability to correctly reference any photos, objects, and theories you discuss in your post or comments, and courtesy in discussion.
Fun, friendly group with just those few simple rules.
All the Emhotep wonderful banner illustrations are from Ghi Stecyk.

Egyptian Blue: The First Synthetic Pigment
Painting from the Tomb of Nebamun (via British Museum/Wikimedia)

The first human-made blue pigment emerged in ancient Egypt, then disappeared for centuries until it was rediscovered in Pompeii.

The Virgin Mary is often depicted in Renaissance paintings draped in a robe of blue, chosen not just for its heavenly tones, but for the rarity of the lapis lazuli pigment that colored her clothing. Yet long before this hue of ground semi-precious stones, there was a synthetic blue pigment widely used in ancient Egypt. This blue’s creation, loss, and rediscovery cover centuries of human history, from the tombs of Egyptian kings, to the 19th-century archaeological digs at Pompeii, to the modern forensics lab.

Did you know? London was once home to an ancient Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Isis
Credit : Markus Milligan


Isis is a goddess from the polytheistic pantheon of Egypt. She was first worshiped in Ancient Egyptian religion, and later her worship spread throughout the Roman Empire and the greater Greco-Roman world.

Spanish mission discovers ancient granite threshold in Fayoum

The Spanish expedition of the Archaeological Museum of Madrid, working in Heracleopolis Magna in the town of Ehansia, Beni Sueif governorate, discovered a large threshold made of red granite while excavating in the Harshaf temple.

Photos: New exhibit on ancient Egypt opens this week at the Saint Louis Science Center

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Egyptologist Bob Brier joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh to discuss a new exhibit opening at the Saint Louis Science Center.

The exhibit puts guests in the shoes of archeologist Howard Carter when he discovers King Tutankhamun tomb and features recreations of many other artifacts.

“The Discovery of King Tut” opens May 27 and runs through January 7. Listen to the interview to hear about this exhibit and about hundreds of years of Egyptian society. Click here to see more information from the Saint Louis Science Center.

Nature Middle East Podcast

Nature Middle East takes a look at the many secrets of ancient Egypt that archaeology has unlocked recently, from insights into pharaonic funerary and mummification rituals in Luxor to 'shamanic' rock art in Aswan.

Friday essay: desecration and romanticisation – the real curse of mummies
Looting and destruction of mummies at the site of Abu Sir Al Malaq in Egypt. HBO

This June Hollywood’s tomb of old ideas will creak open yet again and present the tale of an ancient Egyptian tomb disturbed by a bumbling archaeologist and/or action-adventure hero, who inadvertently and unwittingly unleashes a curse.

Heard it before? Kurtzman’s film is just the latest in a staggering line of mummy-mania and Egyptophilia predating even the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. While popular culture has delighted in mummies for over two centuries, in that same time real Egyptian antiquities have been looted, lusted after, and desecrated. In the 19th century, it was even fashionable to host “unwrapping” parties, where mummies were revealed and dissected as a social event within Victorian parlours.

Ali Swayfi: ‘Petrie’s Best Lad’
Photo of Ali Swayfi from: Quirke, S. 2010. Hidden Hands: Egyptian Workforces in Petrie Excavation Archives, 1880-1924. Duckworth Egyptology. London: Duckworth.

Ali Mohamed Swayfi, also known as ‘Petrie’s best lad’ is encountered frequently in the Abydos Paper Archive. In this letter, dated 10 March 1916, he writes to the Director General of Antiquities at the time, Pierre Lacau. He complains to him about the corruption and dishonesty of both the Fayum Inspector and the chief guard (sheikh al-ghofara) and the threats he received from them after he successfully seized objects that had been stolen.

Picture of the week

From the Grand Egyptian Museum

A painting in the tomb of Inherkha TT359, Anubis and Osiris, gods of the Underworld, in front of tables piled high with offerings.The ceiling is decorated with a vine leaf pattern. New Kingdom, 20th Dynasty. Deir el-Medina, Theban Necropolis.

Friday, June 2, 2017

May Reads

I had a lot of trouble finding books to read this month. Well, not so much finding books, but finishing books, perhaps. I started several, intrigued by both the premise and the first chapter, which I read via Amazon's Look Inside feature. Somewhere around the third chapter, however, I lost interest in about five different books. Maybe I was just persnickety this month, or maybe it was something else.

As a writer, I am aware of how much emphasis agents and publishers place on the first sentence, the first paragraph, and the first chapter. I've been to enough workshops and talked to enough writers to know that these items consume a huge chunk of the time we spend writing novels. Sometimes, it seems that the rest of the book takes a back to seat to the "firsts." Writers who know me have heard me complain that the end of many current novels are often underwhelming and unsatisfying, as though the writer was too exhausted by the all important firsts to make the ending just as good as the beginning. This month seemed to move the problem forward to the middle of the novels.

Nonetheless, I managed to finish three books. So even while I might be critical, the novels were all well-written enough to propel me to the finishing line. Unlike the five who left me stranded a few feet from the starting gate.

American War by Omar El Akkad

Synopsis:  An audacious and powerful debut novel: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle—a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike.

My take: When reviewers say this book reminds them of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, take them seriously. It has the same bleak, soul-chilling, worst-nightmare-you-ever-had about a dystopian future. If you ever stay up late talking with friends about climate change or wondering  about where the quest for oil will take our country, the results of the US leaving the Paris Accords, or how war creates terrorists, this book is for you.

The story of Sarat Chestnut is interpersed with reports and briefings on the Second American Civil War when four states secede. I suppose there might be a play on Mary Chestnut's Civil War Diary, but be assured this story is more brutal by far.  It starts with Sarat as a young girl in Louisiana, one of the states that seceded. A state you might not recognize on the map because climate change altered the eastern seaboard beyond recognition.

The first chapter covers the innocence that Sarat and her siblings lose with increasing brutality. It's nothing that is not already familiar, nothing you can't glean from the nightly news about how people learn to hate and kill one another. The main difference, of course, is this novel is set on American soil. 

The refugee camps and the wall that keeps the diseased citizens of Carolina in check are certainly reminiscent of what you read about Palestine and the Syrian refugee camps. El Akkad recreates the grim daily grind of regugees doing nothing as rumors of atrocities spread like wildfire. He exposes the hypocrisy of aid through the "gift ships" sent by the Red Crescent (yes, the Middle East has risen) filled with blankets that no one needs in the scorching climate of the new American South. It's the closest many of us have yet to come to the crisis that everyone is talking about.

As brutality after brutality  piles up, Sarat seemingly gives in to predestined hatred and revenge, and it's a journey that you might understand for the first time. This tale is a cautionary one, and I urge everyone to read it, think about it, and talk to your friends.

Everything You Want Me to Be: A Novel Mindy Mejia

Synopsis:  "Fans of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl will devour this fast-paced story.”—InStyle 

"Readers drawn to this compelling psychological thriller because of its shared elements with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2012) will be pleasantly surprised to discover that Mejia’s confident storytelling pulls those themes into an altogether different exploration of manipulation and identity.” —Booklist (starred review)

2017’s Best Fiction Books —Bustle

12 Books Gone Girl Fans Should Have on Their Wish List —BookBub

No one knows who she really is…

Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good girlfriend. But Hattie wants something more, something bigger, and ultimately something that turns out to be exceedingly dangerous. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death, the tragedy rips right through the fabric of her small-town community.

It soon comes to light that Hattie was engaged in a highly compromising and potentially explosive secret online relationship. The question is: Did anyone else know? And to what lengths might they have gone to end it? Hattie’s boyfriend seems distraught over her death, but had he fallen so deeply in love with her that she had become an obsession? Or did Hattie’s impulsive, daredevil nature simply put her in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading her to a violent death at the hands of a stranger?

Full of twists and turns, Everything You Want Me to Be reconstructs a year in the life of a dangerously mesmerizing young woman, during which a small town’s darkest secrets come to the forefront…and she inches closer and closer to death.

My take: OK, I get everyone wants the same success as Gone Girl, and  it's a recognizable title to reference.  But Hattie Hoffman is NO Amy Dunne. Not by a long shot. Yeah, she's a little bit scheming, but more in a teenage girl kind of way than a psychopathic kind of way. If I were to compare it to any recent book, I'd compare it Celeste's Ng's Everything I Never Told You, although it's not nearly as good. 

It's a fairly pedestrian crime novel with some of the worst characteristics of that genre, like unmitigated headhopping. It's hard to stifle my "willing suspension of disbelief" when the dead girl speaks as if she's still leaving during some of the head hops.  Although it might touch a little on teenage angst in the new age, Hattie's character has no real depth. In fact, there was no character arc for anyone, and the plot was fairly predictable.

It's an easy read, and you might want to grab it for the beach or the front porch when you have an afternoon to waste. 

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

Synopsis:  Fans of Star Wars and Divergent will revel in internationally bestselling author Veronica Roth’s stunning new science-fiction fantasy series.
On a planet where violence and vengeance rule, in a galaxy where some are favored by fate, everyone develops a currentgift, a unique power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their currentgifts, Akos and Cyra do not—their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control. Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world?

Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power—something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.

Akos is from the peace-loving nation of Thuvhe, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Though protected by his unusual currentgift, once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get his brother out alive—no matter what the cost. When Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. They must decide to help each other to survive—or to destroy one another.

My take: I was a big fan of Divergent, also by Roth, and mildly enthusiastic about the other two books in that trilogy, so I knew I was going to read this book.  As with Divergent, Roth's world-building is top notch. Unlike Divergent, I don't feel compelled to read the second book because the world-building was the best thing about this book. It would have been great if Roth had put as much effort into character and plot development. Or any effort, really. Nor did it particularly remind of Divergent or Star Wars; it felt more like a YA version of Game of Thrones, just not as interesting.

To sum up my major issues: there are too many cardboard characters, and I kept having to think really hard about who these people were and why they were popping up in the story. Ditto, the places that are mentioned; the trip to the water planet seemed like filler or maybe an excuse to set up a scene that could have taken place anywhere. (Maybe I was just too bored at that point to see the significance of it all.) Finally, there were  some rather amateurish timeline issues and jumping between first and third person with no apparent reason.

However, the opening chapter was great, and that was what persuaded me to buy the book. If the remainder of the book had lived up to the first chapter, I would have been one happy camper.