by Michelle Moran
Remember my post way back in February (wow, how time flies!) on "Nefertiti" and how much I enjoyed reading it? Well this one, the sequel about Nefertiti's niece Nefertari, was so much better. I know! It's almost mind-boggling. But the struggle of Nefertari finding her place in Egypt in the shadow of her "heretic" aunt was so much more tangible. It was more of a coming-of-age tale and a realization of her own self-worth, as well as proving to her people who she was and what she could do for them.
Ms Moran has quite the talent for painting the Egyptian scenes. Just as in "Nefertiti", the story and the characters were vivid and without realizing it, I learned history and customs of Pharaoh and his court. It's amazing what they did way back then without our "modern" technologies. Ramesses II had to learn how to deal with drought when the Nile wouldn't overflow its banks for four years, and his architect discovered an invention that helped bring water to the dehydrated farms. Reading historical fiction is one of the best ways of learning I know. (Yes, I know it's not always completely accurate...but it is always fun! ;) )
The characters and events seemed to get to me more in this novel, too. Iset and Henuttawy, in their desperation to make Iset Chief Wife, made me so angry there were times I literally gasped out loud. The Battle of Kadesh had me gnawing my fingernails, and Nefertari's fear of pregnancy had me sweating along with her when it was her time on the birthing chair. It's fascinating when you're so into a book that when the oven timer dings or the phone rings or whatever happens to snap you out of it, you're almost shocked to find yourself on your living room couch and not lounging on an Egyptian throne in the Audience Chamber of the Palace of Malkata.
It was very clever of Ms Moran to name the book "The Heretic Queen", considering Nefertari is not a heretic at all. She has to learn how to rise above her "heretic" aunt's reputation and make her own name for herself. And I think that's why I enjoyed this book so much; women empowerment and self-fulfillment in an age when that wasn't very common. Nefertari took her fate into her own hands and built the life that she wanted.