Saturday, 14 February 2015

Nefertiti: A Heretically Good Read

A Review By: Amelia
Historical fiction is my favourite genre of novel. I love looking back on my favourite time periods and peoples of history and seeing an alternate set of events–or possibly even an alternate history entirely–play out before me! I guess I’m a nerd like that! One of my favourite time periods in history–and therefore one of my favourites to read about–is ancient Egypt, so imagine my delight when I found an author I’d yet to read anything by who writes about ancient Egypt! And not just ancient Egypt, but badass women from ancient Egypt! Well, that settled it, I was on board immediately for Nefertiti.

The author of Nefertiti is Michelle Moran, who has also written about ancient Egypt in two other historical fiction novels: The Heretic Queen and Cleopatra’s Daughter. She found her love for Egypt during her six years as a public high school teacher when she used her summers to travel the world and volunteer on archaeological digs. She has also written Madame Tussaud and The Second Empress.

Nefertiti and her younger sister Mutnodjmet were born and raised in a powerful family that have provided wives to the rulers of Egypt for centuries. Nefertiti is chosen by her aunt–the Queen of Egypt–to settle her unstable son Amunhotep, who has dreams of turning Egypt religion on its head by worshipping not gods, but Aten, the physical disk of the Sun, as the one true god. Nefertiti is chosen to calm Amunhotep and steer him away from his heretical desires, but Nefertiti does not see it as such. By manipulating her pharaoh husband out of jealously for the time he spends with his other wives and her own want for power and to be remembered through the ages, Nefertiti helps him build a city dedicated to this one god and twist tradition and religion into something that will benefit her. She becomes a second pharaoh and is beloved by the people, but is unable to see the powerful priests and generals plotting against her husband’s rule. Her sister is the only one who sees what is happening, yet remaining loyal to Nefertiti will force Mutnodjmet into a dangerous political game she never wanted to play.

The main characters in this are the beautiful yet scheming Nefertiti, the completely batshit crazy Amunhotep, and the timid plant lover Mutnodjmet. There are other characters including Amunhotep’s parents, Nefertiti’s and Mutnodjmet’s parents, and a selection of priests, generals, and Kiya, Amunhotep’s second most important wife. Overall, I was a little disappointed with the characters as they’re all pretty flat. Nefertiti was probably the most well rounded but most of the time she still came off as nothing but a spoiled brat. Amunhotep was the most interesting character for me, but that’s just because he was so obviously crazy! All the characters were scheming in one way or another and the devious political backstabbing and conniving tricks just got tiresome as the one-note characters played them out.

Looking past the lackluster characters, the best part of Nefertiti, for me, were the locations: especially Amarna, the city that Amunhotep built to be the new capital of Egypt. What makes Amarna so interesting is that Amunhotep built it over the course of just a few years, relocated the entire royal court there, and then it was abandoned only a few years later, and not again inhabited until Roman settlement. It’s all very mysterious and I just love reading about historical mysterious!

All in all, Nefertiti was an entertaining read. The characters were flat and a little plain and the dialogue in some scenes just seemed redundant or over done, but by no means did that ruin the experience for me. Nefertiti, as a historical figure, is always fascinating to read about; and her crazy husband (at least, crazy as far as this story goes if not in life) was compelling.

My final thoughts on Nefertiti are that it’s an impulsive read. There were parts of it I didn’t care for but that didn’t stop me from wanting to know what happened next; and the last one hundred pages makes up for it anyways as the best scenes of action happen there and my favourite line in the whole piece (it’s about Anubis but I won’t spoil it for anyone!). I recommend anyone with an interest in ancient Egypt–whether it’s a passing fancy to a hardcore obsession–to give this book a shot.

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