On my recent holiday to Egypt, I sought out obvious reading material associated with both the genre and the country. On the centenary of his death, I discovered one of Bram Stoker’s lesser known works: his 1903 novel The Jewel of Seven Stars.
The following synopsis was provided:
“A mysterious attack on Margaret Trelawney’s father brings young lawyer Malcolm Ross into the Egyptologist’s bizarre home, and the couple soon find they are battling ancient forces greater than they previously could have imagined. The Egyptian queen Tera has been awoken, and is coming to take what she believes to be hers – whatever the cost to the Trelawney family. Set in London and Cornwall, and written at a time when a fascination with the East pervaded Victorian England, The Jewel of Seven Stars reflected the perceived contrast between the Orient’s savagery and moral degradation, and its exotic beauty and opulence.”
The Jewel of Seven Stars initially plays out as a detective mystery type novel with some sort of supernatural aspect and I found myself questioning whether or not it can rightly be categorised as horror. However, with the inclusion of multiple deaths, mutilated corpses, resurrection and unseen phantom assailants, I don’t think there is any real issue with this work taking its place within the genre. The mystery aspect and police inquiry into the events narrated here help build up the story and introduce the main characters to the reader.
The book shifts in tone from crime/ mystery to supernatural thriller/ horror as the story progresses. Impressively, the majority of the tale plays out predominantly in one house and in fact mainly in one room; the book focuses on a handful of dramatis personae but also takes the reader to the streets of Cairo and ancient Egyptian tombs. Despite the different subject matter, there are direct comparisons and plot devices in common with Dracula: a lawyer as the main protagonist; a scene involving guarding a a vulnerable individual in a bedroom from an unknown assailant; a secret chamber positioned in an almost inaccessible location; to name a few.
Overall, there was a distinct lack of action within the proceedings and generally the language employed, although understandably a little dated, was overly verbose and unnecessary. Moreover, Stoker’s characters are vastly under-developed and more than a little cliched. This may well be due to the fact that The Jewel of Seven Stars has been adapted for the screen in Blood from The Mummy’s Tomb, The Awakening and Bram Stoker’s The Mummy, amongst others; but I couldn’t help but feel that the protagonists lacked any real depth.
Given my love for Dracula, undoubtedly Stoker’s seminal work, The Jewel of Seven Stars left me unsatisfied and genuinely disappointed by the ending. It would appear that I was not the only one either since Stoker was asked to complete a rewrite of the ending shortly before his death in 1912 due to criticism from both readers and critics; and so, I read this altered ending too; and was equally unimpressed.
Stoker clearly spent time researching his subject matter with lengthy references to the modern science of the time, astronomy and of course, Egyptology but despite this preparation, The Jewel of Seven Stars plays out like an Edwardian melodrama and simply left me unfulfilled.