Ancient Egypt is a powerful and prosperous land filled with proud, modern, and pious people. Their Pharaoh is a descendent of the gods; touched by immortality and incapable of doing wrong. His people love, worship, and fear him as they do the god Ra who appears to them daily as the sun and whose departure they serenade at dusk every evening.
Hannu is one of Pharaoh’s highest and favorite ministers, exalted as the Second Vizier in Egypt. He worships the Pharaoh, his god-king, who rules Egypt in prosperity and peace; their enemies defeated and those wily Hebrews enslaved. Hannu knows that the Hebrews must suffer to keep Egypt a great empire; they are a difficult people to trust, smart and slippery. From his exalted position, Hannu assists Pharaoh’s overseers who use the Hebrews to build great cities and monuments to Pharaoh and the many gods that help keep Egypt safe and fed. Hannu also assists Pharaoh’s priests and magicians, helping them cater to Egypt’s numerous gods as well as the generals who enforce Pharaoh’s divine love.
Hannu watched jealously as Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s palace, adopted by the god-king to become a prince while Hannu learned the pedestrian ways of a minister. When Moses, who had been gone for five years, returns to Pharaoh’s court after his long absence, he looks unlike the man who was found floating in a basket on the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised to be a prince. Hannu and the court find him an unlikely messenger of any God, slouching in his bleached and torn robe. Still, Moses states that he is exactly that as he commands through cracked lips that Pharaoh “must let my people go to worship our God in the distant lands for three days.”
So begins a war of wills and faith as Moses predicts plague after plague, brought on by the God of the enslaved Hebrews, demanding that the Hebrews be freed. Pharaoh, refuting each plague as magic or less, refuses to release them and the plagues become more and more horrific. The people of Egypt endure their beloved and life-giving Nile turning into blood, suffer infestations, and witness unprecedented destruction of their beloved homeland. Even as Pharaoh suffers with them and agrees to Moses’ demands, he keeps recanting his agreement and even commands the lives of the Hebrews be hardened.
Fearing starvation and the ruin of their nation, the people of Egypt become terrified but dare not go against the will of Pharaoh, the god-king who is touched by immortality.
As the plagues ravage Egypt, Hannu becomes convinced that action must be taken if only to protect his family. His son, Paneb, has predicted his own death and his young daughter, Lapis, cannot understand why they suffer so. His wife, Chiome, who knows her husband has the ear of the Pharaoh, begs Hannu to get the god-king to listen to reason. Hannu himself feels powerless, Pharaoh takes council from his ancestors, divine god-kings, who direct his actions. He does not listen to mortals like Hannu on such weighty affairs.
When the last of the plagues is foretold, the most horrible of them all, Hannu is determined to save his own family if not all of Egypt. His journey to find a way to save them leads to desperate acts of courage, faith, and humility among so much pride and horror.