Abel Trelawney, a reclusive scholar of Ancient Egypt, is left unconscious after being attacked in his own bedroom by an unknown assailant. His daughter Margaret calls the police, a doctor, and her friend and confidant (and our narrator) Malcolm Ross. Margaret, Ross, Dr Winchester, and Sergeant Daw of Scotland Yard find themselves enmeshed in dark and mysterious events, centring on Trelawney's collection of Egyptian artifacts, which include a remarkable ruby (bearing seven markings arranged in the shape of the Plough) taken from the long-lost tomb of the sorcerer-queen Tera. Evidence mounts that, whereas most ancient Egyptian rulers had themselves mummified to secure their rebirth in the afterlife, Queen Tera had a plan to secure her rebirth in this life...
How it all turns out depends on which edition you're reading. The original 1903 ending divided readers, and was replaced in the 1912 edition with a more conventionally happy and tidy ending. (Some doubt exists as to whether Stoker wrote the new ending himself, or even had any significant input.) Most later editions follow the 1912 text, though some return to the 1903 ending; the Penguin Classics edition includes both.
The novel has inspired several films, including the 1971 Hammer Horror picture Blood from the Mummy's Tomb and the 1980 Charlton Heston vehicle The Awakening. (So far none have used the novel's title.) Adaptations tend to throw out the novel's ambiguity and make Queen Tera an outright villain.
This novel provides examples of:
- Ambiguous Situation: Queen Tera — noble woman playing a desperate hand for high stakes, or cold-blooded witch prepared to step over the bodies of others to preserve her own life?
- Ancient Egypt: The novel is partly a commentary on Victorian Britain's obsession with it, and includes a lot of the standard elements: mummies, scarab beetles, etc.
- Astral Projection: Queen Tera apparently had some skill at this, which apparently allowed for her consciousness to survive death and for her to continue to influence events subsequently.
- Character Filibuster: The sixteenth chapter in the first edition consists largely of one character rambling on about how the ancient Egyptians may have had scientific knowledge equal to, or even greater than, the present day. Many subsequent editions have left the chapter out entirely.
- Death by Childbirth: Margaret's mother.
- Empathic Environment: In the 1903 version, the climactic scene occurs during a violent storm (which Ross finds himself thinking of as Someone or Something expressing displeasure with what's afoot).
- Empty Piles of Clothing:
- In the 1903 version, the resurrection attempt, though interrupted when the storm breaks in, seems at first to have successfully restored Queen Tera's body to youth, but when Ross returns after getting a candle to replace the lights extinguished by the storm, her body has vanished, leaving behind her clothes.
- In the 1912 version, her body is reduced to a pile of dust, clothes and all, though her jewels remain.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: Margaret's pet cat has a persistent negative reaction to one of Trelawny's artifacts long before any of the human characters realise that it's significant.
- Extra Digits: Queen Tera was born with seven fingers on one hand, and seven toes on one foot; that's why the number 7 had a mystical meaning for her.
- Familiar: Queen Tera had a cat. (Probably because cats are known to have been respected in ancient Egypt and sometimes mummified along with their owners, rather than just because All Witches Have Cats.)
- Genre Shift: Starts out as a whodunnit, complete with renowned detective on the case, gradually morphs into supernatural horror. (The renowned detective bows out of the plot around two-thirds of the way through, announcing that the case is now clearly out of Scotland Yard's jurisdiction and that he's looking forward to getting back to "clean, wholesome criminal work".)
- Grand Theft Me: There are hints that Queen Tera's resurrection will involve pulling this on Margaret. In the 1903 version, the resurrection turns out to involve Tera's original body; in the 1912 version it's left ambiguous as to whether this gambit succeeds.
- Identical Stranger: It's remarked several times that Margaret bears a striking resemblance to Queen Tera (though strictly speaking the story stops short of "identical"); it's implied that Tera may somehow have caused this to happen, as part of her plan.
- Just Think of the Potential: The reason why, having figured out what Queen Tera was up to, Trelawny decides to help her out. Just think of how the world could be improved by having access to a learned person from centuries past who knows many things now forgotten! Don't dwell on the doubts about her true motives!
- Narrator: Malcolm Ross
- Not Herself: Margaret has intermittent periods of this toward the end of the novel, when Queen Tera is using her to keep tabs on what's going on, and occasionally to make suggestions.
- Rule of Seven: All over the place, to the point that Trelawny starts using it as a decision-making guide (for instance, performing an important action on the seventh day of the month) on the ground that Queen Tera seems to have had a particular affinity with the number and so picking the option with a seven in is most likely to be the correct course.
- Seductive Mummy: Queen Tera is described as strikingly beautiful, even as a mummy. It is also possible that her spirit survived in Margaret, the main character's Love Interest, who is said to bear a striking resemblance to her.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: All but two of the servants resign en masse a couple of nights into the story, as they're the first ones to conclude that something supernatural is going on.
- Unperson: Queen Tera was erased from history after her death (something that has been known to have happened to several Ancient Egyptian rulers in real life).