Wraiths of Time is a singleton novel about an ancient Egyptian civilization. Tallahassee Mitford is a student of archaeology and an assistant curator at the local museum. She has been employed to help catalogue the Lewis Brooke collection after the owner's accidental death the previous year. Dr. Roman Carey, a specialist in Egyptian and Nubian artifacts, has been called in to study the collection.
In this novel, the FBI have stumbled across a box in a locker at the airport that emits some unknown form of energy. Their initial survey does not find any obvious way of opening the object without damaging it. They involve Jason Robbins from the local FBI office because of his knowledge of African artforms and he then calls in his cousin Tally after recognizing the obvious age of the object. She identifies several African motifs in the design of the object and suggests that the FBI store the box in the museum safe overnight and then let Dr. Carey identify the artifact the following day.
After storing the box and its lead-lined carrier within the safe, Tally and Jason go out for dinner and then he escorts Tally to her apartment. Her phone is ringing when she arrives and her boss, Dr. Greenley, asks her to return immediately to the museum. Someone has ransacked Dr. Greenley's office, but the artifact itself remains untouched within the safe. When Tally shows it to Dr. Greenley, the supercilious Dr. Carey elbows his way to the object and opens it by pressing on both sides.
Within the box is a small bundle wrapped in yellowed material. Tally grabs his arm and warns him of the radiation, but Dr. Carey jerks away and picks up the bundle and, eluding an effort by Dr. Greenley to take the bundle, Carey unwraps it to show an ankh, which he then drops onto the desktop. There is a crash of thunder, the lights go out, and the glowing object rises in the air and moves off through the museum to another object stored therein, a rod of office from the Brooke collection. This object is also glowing, but more faintly. When she grasp the rod and the ankh touches it, Tally is surrounded by a riot of light, heat, sound and pain and then falls senseless.
In this story, Tally is hurled into a time after Egypt has been overrun by barbarians. She gains consciousness in a place of rock and sand, where she finds the dead body of someone who looks like her yet is dressed as a Royal princess. Moreover, the body is holding the ahkh and rod in either hand. Then a woman in the mask of a lioness comes upon Tally and the body, calls in two other women, and has them carry the girl's body into the nearby temple of Apedemek, the lion god.
Despite the evidence of her travel though space and time, Tally also discovers signs of an advanced civilization: a humming pillar and a flying machine with no apparent means of propulsion. And then she is introduced to a box that conducts thought between persons wearing the two earpieces.
Tally learns that she been thrown into an alternate timeline in which the refugees from Egypt, and later from the Kush, have fled far to the West, preserving and increasing their ancient knowledge. Her duplicate in this timeline was the Princess Ashake and now she is being asked to replace the Princess amidst a power struggle for the throne of the Empire of Amun. The Candace is the eldest child of the late Pharoah's sister and thus the proper heir to the throne. However, the Pharoah's son, Userkof, is attempting to usurp the throne with aid from Kashti, a person of great power who has found a way to pierce the wall between timelines.
This story illustrates some characteristic features in most science fiction tales by the author. Like many adventure tales that predated science fiction per se, it is filled with ancient ruins containing strange artifacts with inexplicable powers. Often these artifacts are gateways to unknown realms and are guarded by powerful monsters. Most of the technology in these tales is commonplace in SF (the author may have invented some of it) but a few technological objects are so advanced as to be incomprehensible to the scientists and techs who study it. Even before Clarke coined his third law, the author was writing about advanced technology that was indistinguishable from magical artifacts.
This story is another tale of crosstime travel but with elements of the ancient Egyptian religion intermingled with technology. The plot is a bit weak and is very similar to that of the author's Shadow of Albion fantasy novel. However, the story is a good adventure among the exotic ambiance of an Empire of Amun that never existed in our own universe.
Highly recommended for Norton fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of ancient societies mixed with very advanced technology.