The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran is a book that I picked up of my own accord. Finally! A book my soul aches at reading. I picked up The Heretic Queen because I was in a serious reading depression after reading book after disappointing book. I needed something I knew I would like and although I read this out of order, I know I needed Michelle Moran’s ancient Egypt. So much! And boy was I right! A serious addiction, hands down one of the best historical fiction I’ve ever read!
I am absolutely in love with ancient Egypt and for a book to be about one of my favorite Queens and Pharaohs of Egypt was like heaven on print. Yes! My first historical fiction of Nefertari and Ramesses and I am not disappointed! At all! I love Nefertari! I want to tattoo her cartouche on me one day! This woman is as much of a goddess to me as she was to her own people. To read a book from her point of view about her struggle to be crowned Queen of Egypt – I almost cried at the honor I was given. Did it take place like this? Maybe? Who knows! Did I love this ride? Absolutely!
The characters of this book are absolutely breathtaking. They are vibrant, beautiful and alive. They seem to leap off the pages with their personalities and that is a breath of fresh air. The core cast was very well balanced with characters I just knew I liked, Asha, characters I wished would die, Iset and Henuttawy, and characters that sometimes frustrated me, Nefertari and Ramesses. Although some characters appeared to be more two-dimensional than others, displaying only foul qualities, I think they were justified because of the plot motivating the entire story. Ms. Moran depicts the court of Ramesses the Great in a very realistic and believable light. Every court has its scandals and plots. Treachery and lies are a bit of a staple in courts throughout history. The drama that plays out between the characters seems very grounded to me if only because Nefertari was related to Nefertiti. And it never really dawned on me how unwelcome she would be in the new court. Ms. Moran did a fantastic job depicting the livelihood of the court of Ancient Egypt in a very refined way that did not seem to drag in the least.
The setting of the book is very well managed. The reader was not crammed into one over heated palace with a miserable aunt and petty court for the entirety of novel. Instead, we were given a grand tour of the ups and downs in the life of Nefertari. We watched her in her school and childhood room. We watched her grow in the temple and return to a different palace. The court moved around and we caught glimpses of the whole of Egypt’s empire during the campaign. The entire time Ms. Moran reminded us of how vibrant and alive her Ancient Egypt was. The gardens, the flowers, and the natural beauty were never neglected; I could almost smell the flowers. She also did a splendid job of describing the grandeur of the alabaster. The absolute beauty and refinement of the palaces was never in question or lost. It was exquisitely depicted in the most insignificant details.
I don’t exactly dislike the plot but I think that is where I had my biggest ISH. Ancient Egypt by nature has plot holes out the butt with entire centuries of history missing. The fact that Ms. Moran took the plot holes and put a sort of mystery/thriller spin on it is extremely creative but at the same time I’m a little eh about it. I don’t particularly like mystery books but she did it in a very sneaky way and I appreciated the hint of that flavor amidst the plot. It never dragged but kept a very steady momentum. The great characters really kept the pace in the story and I am extremely grateful for that. Aside from the plot being outstandingly paced I also appreciate the creative liberties she took with the plot. This is a historical fiction at the end of the day. There are going to be fiction/creative elements present in the book and for that I am very thankful. They gave this tale a new life. New possibilities. To see someone else fill in the gaps of a story I already tried to piece together is amazing. I love seeing other historically creative liberties – even if I don’t agree with them sometimes. Thankfully in this book, we were all pretty much on the same page. This also probably doesn’t have as many creative liberties as other books either considering I don’t think there was a whole lot that she “changed” directly but just assembled a little differently and spiced it up with her own flavorings.
The conflict of this story is really between Nefertari and Egypt as a whole. The more specific circles of conflict are between her and the court but I really like that multi-dimensional aspect of this. The people are very aggressively against Nefertari and although some would argue no peasant would ever openly attack a royal and be allowed to live, one thing to keep in mind is that this is all taking place during a drought. The people are dying from starvation and they place the blame on Nefertari. Yes, I do think peasants would risk death and honestly, if they truly believed it was because of her that the gods were angry, they would revolt. The ever present conflict between Nefertari and Ramesses, I think, is also very believable because Nefertari is trying her best to convince him she is not a petty heretic. There is not a single wasted element in this story and I love her many layers of conflict in this very vivid and realistic depiction of the royal court of Ramesses the Great.
The resolution of the story is very satisfying and even though I knew how it would end – because, historical fiction – it was a truly satisfying conclusion. I liked that justice was pretty much had and it really wasn’t the “happily ever after” ending, but more the “things have finally fallen into place” ending. There are still some loose ends that weren’t really ever addressed and I think I’m okay with that because it is very realistic in the sense of life.
Nefertari is one of my most favorite queens of Egypt, along with Hatshepsut. To read a good book about her life and her struggles that was exceptionally executed and creative is a gift unlike any other for me. I am still reeling from this book and my soul hurts to know that it’s over. A part of me died when that final page turned and I still have Nefertari with me in my soul. I feel as though I’ve made a best friend in her that will always be with me and I am so thankful to Michelle Moran for that great story. Exceptional execution. I can’t wait to reread this book!
Let me know what you all thought about this book! I’d love to hear your perspectives!
The Reading Tortie