Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

Monday, June 20, 2011

Title: Nefertiti
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.

3 stars


  1. Hmmm, still not sure if I want to try this one out. I've actually had it on my to-read list for a long time, but after reading "Madame Tussaud" by Moran I'm a little less enthusiastic. This sounds like it has the same slow-pace problem. I hope you like the sequel!

  2. This one has been on my TBR for ages and I've read so many positive reviews about it. However, I recently read Cleopatra's Daughter by the same author and wasn't blown away. I think I'll wait a while before giving this one a try.

  3. Too bad this wasn't a "knock it out of the park" book. Ancient Egypt hasn't held my attention very well, but my daughter will learn it this upcoming year in 6th grade so perhaps I'll gain a new appreciation!

  4. @Sarah - Part of me doesn't want to read her other books since this wasn't stellar for me, but I have this weird sense of obligation to read everything by an author once I've started, especially sequels. I should probably get over that so I don't go insane.

    @Tiny Library - I have Cleopatra's Daughter sitting on my nightstand, also borrowed from my sis-in-law. Sounds like maybe all of her books are just decent.

    @Helen's Book Blog - I haven't thought about Egypt too much, but I do remember loving learning about it in sixth grade. Hope your daughter has fun and you too :)

  5. Awww... I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy this book as much as I did. I loved how the story unfolded--- and that if you did some research with what Egyptologists have managed to find out about the characters mentioned--- the life of Nefertiti and Ankhenaten, Tutankhamun, Smenkhare, Horemheb, Vizier Ay, Nakhtmin, etc--- you would be astounded as to how she magnificently weaved the story fold by fold.

    You see, historical fiction isn't just about making stories. Good historical fiction, at least. It's about making facts and your story fit--- the narration to the best of your knowledge of how events probably took place during those uncertain ancient times. The only flaw I've seen so far is the thing about Nefertiti's corpse being defaced--- as this is clearly influenced by the discovery of the Elder Lady who was conjectured to be probably Queen Tiye and the Younger Lady of King's Valley 55 (KV35). A certain Joann Fletcher thought that the Younger Lady is probably Nefertiti based on inconclusive evidence that one of the most well-known Egyptologist today, if not the most well known, Zahi Hawass has criticized amongst others... That the mummy looks like Nefertiti's famous unfinished bust done by Thutmose (discovered in his workshop, if I remember correctly), that the broken bent hand found with the mummy (which is the pose of a queen of Egypt) belonged to the said Younger Lady... DNA tests done in 2010 prove that the Elder Lady is indeed Queen Tiye but the Younger Lady is still to be identified. It was not Queen Nefertiti but rather a direct sister of Ankhenaten and the mother of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Zahi Hawass earlier conjectured the mummy of the Younger Lady to be Kiya but since DNA tests prove the said mummy to be Ankhenaten's full sister... Then we are to have other more viable suspects other than Kiya (though no one really knows who Kiya is--- other than her sporting the title of Most Beloved Wife of Pharaoh Ankhenaten, to make it all short, and her being a prominent figure in the court during the Amarna Period as well as having her monuments defaced and changed later on for Ankhenaten's supposed daughters to Nefertiti) regarding King Tut's parentage. So, yes, King Tutankhamen was a product of incest--- something not so uncommon within the royal family of Ancient Egypt. So apart from those things... I have yet to spot another mistake. However, when she wrote the book, the DNA test to prove King Tut's parentage still hasn't been done and it was largely thought that Kiya was King Tut's mother--- a means to explain her prominence in court.

  6. So apart from that... Nothing yet. It was all done beautifully--- with a care for detail that I rarely see amongst other writers even when they are not writing historical fiction.

    By the way... Did you know that after King Tut died by, seemingly gangrene/infection that came from a broken leg, Vizier Ay married Ankhesenaamun and reigned for four years to be replaced by Horemheb? That Horemheb had a wife named Mutnotjmet? I thought this curious... And discovered that Horemheb went on a campaign to deface and destroy everything to do with the Amarna period, even Vizier Ay's tomb, and that even the ushabtis of Nakhtmin later on found had the nose and mouth obviously defaced? Moran explained the whole thing in The Heretic Queen as Horemheb forcefully marrying Mutnodjmet in order to legitimize his claim to the throne... While we don't know what Mutnjodjmet's character was nor if Horemheb's wife and the Mutnodjmet indicated in the Amarna paintings standing on one side not raising her hands to embrace Aten and having the title Sister of the Great Royal Wife is the same person... It is a good theory.

    With all that said... I believe Michelle Moran does pretty good research in a more meticulous manner than others before going off and plotting her story. (A durbar was indeed depicted in some tomb or Amarna painting to do with Ankhenaten and Nefertiti but it is unclear as to what the purpose of the durbar is for--- and I believe I've read somewhere that a DNA examination of the workers quarters in Amarna does hint at a plague during that time, though this isn't confirmed.

  7. Hmm... My friend really highly recommends this one, so I'm trying it for her, but I'm sorry you didn't love it! It sounds... interesting. It also sounds like I need to brush up on my Egyptian history, b/c I TOTALLY thought Nefertiti was a good Queen... :P

  8. So did I! I remember learning in class that she was so supportive of the pharoah and they made so many changes for the positive in Egypt, but that is definitely not the way it is portrayed in this book. I think I might be remembering sixth grade wrong. The book was fun, just not something that gripped me.


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