Book Review: The Heretic Queen

The Heretic Queen: A Novel

Michelle Moran
Paperback, 416 pages
Crown Publishing Group
September 01, 2009

 

This is Michelle Moran’s second novel, after Nefertiti, and it picks up around twenty years later when the old religion has been restored, the capital has moved from Amarna back to Thebes, and all that remains of the Heretic Queen’s family is her niece Nefertari. 

Due to her ties with Akhenaten and Nefertiti, the young princess is reviled, feared, and distrusted.  She’s tolerated by her peers solely because of her friendship with Ramesses, the heir to the throne of Egypt.  But when she’s overlooked as Ramesses’ first wife for the beautiful but vapid Iset, granddaughter to a harem wife, Nefertari is filled with dread and doubt, unsure of her place at court and heartbroken at the thought of Ramesses with another. 

When the High Priestess of Hathor – and Ramesses’ aunt – offers to take her under her wing, she reveals a plan to supplant Iset and make Nefertari the young king’s Chief Wife, thus thwarting the plot of her scheming sister (the High Priestess of Isis) to put Iset on the throne in exchange for wealth and power.  Nefertari’s intelligence and knack for foreign languages makes her a valuable asset to the kingdom and she slowly starts to win over the people with her wise and fair judgments in the Audience Chamber.

With enemies surrounding her, Nefertari knows that the only way for the names of her family to be written back into the scrolls of history is to become Chief Wife and to be crowned Queen of Egypt.  She must use all her wiles to avert the many attempts to besmirch her name and turn Ramesses against her.  And to make matters worse, the Nile has not flooded in four years and the Hittites are threatening to invade, and while the kingdom is on the verge of famine and war the people are quick to blame Nefertari. 

But when she puts her own life at risk to ride to war beside Ramesses and uses her mastery of foreign languages to weed out enemy spies, she finds herself surrounded by even more dangers as desperation drives her foes to new heights of treachery.

In my opinion The Heretic Queen was equally impressive as Moran’s début novel, Nefertiti, and I immediately connected to Nefertari and felt what it was like to be harshly and unfairly judged by the wrongdoings of relatives.  And while at first I was a bit disappointed because I thought it was a continuation of Mudnojemet’s story, I was quickly won over by Nefertari and her love of languages and sharp wit.  Ramesses was a very likeable character and I admired how he always treated Iset with love and respect even when she was at her whiniest and behaved like a spoiled brat.  And when Nefertari finally got the opportunity to ruin her, she couldn’t bring herself to do it and my admiration for her deepened. 

It was well researched, fast paced, and I loved the writing style.  My only complaint is that it was too short and I didn’t want it to end.  I desperately wanted to see what happened years into Ramesses’ reign as he built the impressive reputation that remains with him to this day. 

I preemptively gave this book a spot in my Top 10 Historical Fiction list, hoping that it would be well deserved and I’m happy to say that it was.  Who knows, maybe I’ll come across a book in the future that bumps it out (maybe Moran’s next book, Cleopatra’s Daughter?), but for now it’s definitely worthy.

On a side note, I recently had the privilege of visiting the travelling King Tut exhibit at the De Young museum in San Francisco and I was absolutely awestruck at the site of the 3,000 year old artifacts from a civilization that I’ve been fascinated by my entire life.  I actually saw Tutankhamun’s crook & flail, Nefertiti’s bust (breathtaking, even lacking a nose), Queen Tuja’s sarcophagus, and larger than life statues of Akhenaten.  Sadly, the boy king’s golden funerary mask isn’t allowed to travel so I didn’t get to see it, but hopefully someday I’ll find myself in Egypt, walking under the same sky and upon the same sand as the ancient kings of the greatest empire ever known.

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3 Comments »

  1. Dave Bara Said:

    I commend you for reading “Under The Dome”. Just looking at it in the bookstore makes me think “no way”! It’s like an overly large steak, it may smell good, but you’ll probably regret eating all that later!

    db

  2. Jamye Said:

    I might have to unzip my pants but it’s so going to be worth it. 🙂

  3. Steve Said:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


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