Pharaoh no Haka: Takemiya Keiko

I actually started reading this series years ago. I got through book one and realized that for some reason, I did not have book three even though books two and four were sitting on my shelf. I knew when I started this saga, Takemiya’s first real long-form work, that it was complete in four volumes and so I intended to purchase all four volumes and read the whole thing at once. And yet? Volume three was not there. Did I lose it? Did I somehow overlook that three comes between two and four? Who can say! All I know is that upon discovering the lack of a volume three, I decided to shelve the series until I could read it in its entirety. 

But oddly, volume three turned out to be impossible to obtain. No bookstore I frequented had it on its shelf; my favourite online retailer continually listed it as unavailable. I feared that I would never find out what happened to prince-turned-slave Sariokis (I don’t know how to spell any of these ridiculous katakana names). And then a couple months ago, volume three was suddenly available once more. So I clicked on that order button and had it sent to my home away from Tokyo. Now, the tale can be told. 

And the tale is wild! I have come to expect drama and rollercoasters from Takemiya, but she really delivers in this series. In the first half of the first book alone, a kingdom is burned to the ground; a princess floats down the river to become a citizen of an enemy kingdom; a prince is taken as a slave, flogged, incites an uprising among his fellow slaves, and is beaten to death by a terrifyingly large man. Also, there is an evil, sadistic young king who for some reason noodles about his kingdom randomly whipping and branding people. Plus the princess betrothed to this cruel king is warm and kind-hearted, making his treatment of her all the more cruel. 

Since this is a shojo series, we all know how this is going to end. The only question is how Takemiya gets us to that happy ending. The answer is with a lot of bloodshed. And nonsensical political shenanigans. And a cult religion. You didn’t expect her to not continually up the stakes, did you? This is classic shojo. Of course, there is a desert cult. 

So Sariokis is the second son of the royal family of Esteria, a small Egyptian nation that is invaded by the larger, more ruthless Uljina. The place is burned to the ground and Sariokis just barely makes it out with his life, after tossing his younger sister Nilekia into the Nile in attempt to keep her safe from the soldiers trying to cut them down. He is rounded up into a group of survivors taken to Uljina to be slaves and forced to work on the future grave of that evil young king, Snefel. But of course, he never loses his pride or his natural regal bearing, which gets him into a whole lot of trouble. He is determined, however, to have his revenge on the king who took everything from him. And here is where the twists begin!

I won’t spoil anything for you because part of the fun here is gasping aloud at the audacious twists and turns. Takemiya is in fine form, ramping up the drama at every opportunity with her beautiful youthful kings. There is a whole lot of the world turning itself inside out to express the many emotions of the many characters, something I really love about classic shojo that we don’t see enough of these days. I want artists to really lean into that artificiality and have horses writhing in agony to depict the inner anguish of the characters. 

Takemiya peppers the story with narrative bits from the Esteria records, so even as we read, she’s telling us that this story is already finished and done, its outcome set. We are merely watching the chain of events unfold. And given the desert cult, this predestination feels very appropriate. Obviously, the hero will win out. It’s only a matter of how, and that is what the sagas are there to tell us. 

I love this less than other Takemiya works, however, because wow, do people ever make stupid decisions in this one. Like “allowing an enemy army within the walls of your city for negotiations” stupid. Or repeatedly agreeing to be alone with someone who has tried to kill you every time you have been in each other’s presence. I can overlook a lot for the sake of a story, but there were a lot of things in this one that completely yanked me out of the story. The series really falls off the rails in the long-sought volume three. Sariokis has insisted on peace and not killing as a way forward, but then he just casually cuts a whole bunch of people down without so much as a second thought. It’s a serious divergence from the character Takemiya has been building since the first book and it’s very jarring to read. 

There is a hostage situation that makes absolutely no sense, ostensibly to build tension toward the denouement. But it seems completely absurd from the get-go. And I know readers in the mid-seventies were not as attuned to world diplomacy as we might be these days, as globally connected as we are. But I think even those readers would be like, wait, what? Why is he doing this? It is just nonsensical. 

It all pulls together in the end, though. Threads get tied up, the bad guys get their due, there is a final battle of epic proportions between villain and hero, and hero carries the day as was forordained by the gods. It might drag a bit with strange and unimportant political machinations in the third volume (the cursed volume!), but even with all the inconsistencies and contradictions, Takemiya delivers a story worth reading even now, more than forty years after it first was published.


4 thoughts on “Pharaoh no Haka: Takemiya Keiko

  1. Recently I found your site by searching for Saho Tono Twinkle on Google, and happily I found more interesting books in this site! It has been a pleasure to see you continue to share your reading experiences over the years : )

    1. I’m so glad Saho Tono brought you here! I love her work so much. And I’m happy you found some other books that interested you! I’ll keep writing about the books I read, so I hope you’ll keep reading.

  2. This write up was a blast to read–even your description of the “WTF” plot twists come off as kinda delicious. Funny enough, I’ve long had a copy of volume three (which was picked out of a cheap bin in Vancouver over 20 years ago…) and nothing else from it. I gather it’s actually still in print judging by those pictures with the odd obi (?) strips…

    Especially interesting to see how Takemiya works out her first long-form story–I’ve read a small handful of her earlier short works (like the infamous among KazeKi fans, In the Sunroom from 1970 for example) but obviously this uses a different set of tools so that some of them are rusty (how’s that for a crappy metaphor) isn’t too surprising. I know you know that she has said she wrote this title with the goal that it would be a hit and so she’d get the go ahead to write KazeKi…

    Funny, when I saw her speak in Vancouver over ten years back, she was mainly promoting Terra E but she did mention this title that, along with Terra E, if either were to be made more recently, they would have been much longer. But that was just less common in the 1970s (of course the same year she did Terra E she started KazeKi which went on for ages, so…) But I kinda appreciate that about classic manga–how tightly plotted they are. In terms of setting and even some of the art, the Takemiya title it most reminds me of was her last major work, Tenma no Ketsuzoku which, for comparison sake, ran from 1992-2000 over 24 (!) tankoubons…

    One kinda nit picky argument I’ll make. You write… “Since this is a shojo series, we all know how this is going to end. The only question is how Takemiya gets us to that happy ending. ” My immediate reaction to that is that a good chunk of classic shoujo manga, going at least to my beloved Fire! by Mizuno Hideko in 1969, certainly do NOT have happy endings, at least not in any traditional sense (even Takemiya’s big two from the 70s, KazeKi and TerraE don’t). 😉

    Thanks again for such a fun review.

    1. So wild that you had the only volume I found it impossible to get! And yes, it is still in print, so I don’t know why I had such a hard time getting it.

      Glad you enjoyed the wild ride with me! And your nit is well picked! I was thinking more of the romantic shojo we see nowadays; the classic stuff was definitely not all happy endings. But Takemiya lays the groundwork in this one early on to let us know that our wandering prince will have a happy ending. I should have been more specific. And there is lots of tragedy in here, too. It’s just that everything turns out for the best for the main character (mostly).

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