Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Crown, 2007
Source: Borrowed from my sister-in-law
The untimely death of the pharaoh's oldest son leaves the kingdom wide open for Amunhotep, the ambitious and heretic second son. Nefertiti, the beautiful and intelligent niece of the Queen of Egypt, is a logical choice as his chief wife. However, as Amunhotep (later Akhenaten) pushes his new religious ideas on his reluctant subjects, the political climate of Egypt grows more and more unstable. Nefertiti's cat-eyed sister, Mutnodjmet, is thrown into the center of it all as she struggles to escape the tumult of royal life and establish a peaceful family life of her own.
This book sat on my nightstand for months, and I'm not sure why. I think it was one part my overwhelmed feeling with everything I had to read, one part my lack of interest in Egypt in general, and one part my reluctance to get into historical fiction. This is kind of laughable to me now, because since reading this book I have read practically nothing but historical fiction since.
To me, Nefertiti was mildly entertaining. The setting, however, was fantastic. In my mind I had a preconception that I wasn't interested in Egyptian history, but once I became swept up in the story I found the scenery and daily-life tidbits fascinating. Moran inserted little details of culture that made the events more believable. Her scenes were vivid - I could picture the city Nefertiti and Amunhotep were building and Mutnodjmet's herb garden.
I had mixed reactions to the characters. Mutnodjmet herself was an enjoyable character to read. She only wants to enjoy her life as a loved and fulfilled woman, but her family expects her to be willing to sacrifice everything for their social status, The Other Boleyn Girl -style. While she does have a few weak moments enjoying a triumph of beauty over Amunhotep's Second Wife, Kiya's, ladies in waiting. She has interests beyond the family's status, growing medicinal herbs and setting up a business to help women with various problems. She wants to have a family and enjoy a life married to a man that she loves. My one complaint with Mutny was that she was too perfect - she never made a mistake, never showed a dark side. She was consistently either devoted and dutiful or righteously indignant.
Nefertiti and Amunhotep, on the other hand, were selfishness personified. They ignored all political life and cut a pathway of destruction, debt, and death through Egypt. Their horrible deeds, which could have been entertainment for shock value, become predictable. You know that Amunhotep will do something stupid and selfish, and you know that Nefertiti will go along with him to keep power over him. Their story, presumably the central story, was occasionally tiresome because of the endless tirade of horrible acts.
However, the pace picks up in the last hundred pages as Nefertiti and Amunhotep's misdeeds escalate to a horrible climax. The story becomes like a train wreck (please realize I'm referring to the horrific events, not the writing). I knew just what would happen, but I had to keep reading. I was originally thinking that perhaps I wouldn't read the sequel, The Heretic Queen, but the last 100 pages convinced me to stay invested in Amunhotep and Nefertiti's tragic story. Be warned, however, that the first several hundred pages are a slow ebb and flow of Mutnodjmet trying to assert her right to happiness and Nefertiti and Amunhotep wreaking havoc.
This was an enjoyable read, perhaps not quite living up to my expectations or the time invested in the high page count, but nevertheless one that is staying with me still. I am still looking forward to reading Michelle Moran's other works, although I am hoping her next books hold my attention a little better.