After reading The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran, I knew I had to read Nefertiti. I have a special fondness for Nefertiti. She was the first ancient Egyptian queen I fell in love with when I was 11 years old. After that came Hatshepsut and then Nefertari. This is a book I read through as quickly as I could and even then I couldn’t read it fast enough! I felt like I was there in the ancient court of Akhenaten. A woman known as one of the most beautiful and powerful rulers to ever live in Ancient Egypt, this book was everything I wanted and more. The story leapt off the pages at you and I couldn’t have been happier.
The characters in this story are some of the most well written characters I have ever read. Like always, Ms. Moran puts her best foot forward in all of her writing and the finished product is absolutely astounding. Told from the point of view of Nefertiti’s younger sister, Mutnodjmet, at first I felt leery about it. Initially disappointed I wouldn’t see the world through the queen’s eyes, I quickly saw how critical this decision was in the writing of this book.
Nefertiti is a very lively and ambitious character. She moved a million miles a minute in the book, just as I’m sure she did in real life. Nothing ever slowed her down and she kept looking to the future and beyond, just like her husband. To have the story told from her perspective and to keep it true to what I believe Nefertiti was like in ancient times, would have been to get a story revolving around Akhenaten and Amarna. The rest of Egypt would have been a passing thought if not completely forgotten.
I quickly fell in love with Mutny, as she was so endearingly called by her sister, and the cast of the story. Even the most minor characters were multi-dimensional. Not once did I see a character that was flat. Every single person in this story, from the Vizier Ay to the jealous second-wife Kiya, had a moment of development in the story. The character of Nefertiti was slowly unwrapped before our eyes through the very sensible and grounded eyes of Mutny. By the end of the story, I felt like Nefertiti had been my own sister and like I knew her from the inside out. Not even the larger than life Akhenaten could steal the lime light from Nefertiti.
It was also a very pleasant surprise to see that even the ‘bad guys’ of the book weren’t one dimensionally evil. They were complex characters that had conflicting emotions that, although were motivated by selfish gain, could be at times sympathized with. For a writer to create an antagonist that can make a reader feel sympathy for their cause is nothing short of remarkable. It really shows that Ms. Moran really knew and understood every single character she brought to the page.
The setting of the book is well balanced. We got an entire tour of Ancient Egypt and the palaces in the few hundred pages we had. We moved from Memphis, to Thebes, Amarna and back. We visited many palaces and Audience Chambers and it seemed as though I was there looking at the painted mosaics that the writer described. Everything was in vivid and exquisite detail. The gardens that we could hardly imagine in the desert of modern-day Egypt were painted so vividly I felt I could reach out and touch them with my hand. The sand seemed to get caught in between my teeth and by the time I put the book down, I felt like I had to shake some Egyptian sand from my sandals. The entire world completely immersed you and when I paused to look around my room, I was startled at the fact that I was in fact not in the Riverside Palace.
The plot of the book was exceptionally well executed. Considering Nefertiti is one of the most mysterious queens of the ancient world because her name was almost completely wiped out from existence, I felt like everything in the book was very believable. The personality given to Nefertiti who was the real driving force behind everything in this book was very genuine and true to me. She would have been the diva and pampered royal with her husband wrapped around her finger. She would have been the selfish and spoiled sister that wanted to be the center of the universe and she, of course, was never to blame. And the more I saw the plot develop and the more divaesque I saw her, the less I hated her. Mutny really did make it almost impossible to hate the sister she so adored.
So many unexpected twists and turns, the plot of this book will leave you reeling for more. The conspiracies and lies that pushed Nefertiti and her Egypt are almost too astounding to comprehend. It seems almost too unbelievable but the simple fact that Akhenaten tried to kill all of their gods and raise only one above all else, really makes everything else much easier to swallow.
The liberties taken to push the plot forward seemed historically accurate because of how seamless everything flowed. The drought, famine, plagues – everything was perfect! Nothing was out of place!
The conflict of this story from the very beginning was between Akhenaten and the empire. A king determined to redo Egypt itself set the stage as a force to be reckoned with. I almost worried that Nefertiti would not get in a word edge wise when I started the book. But just like he was a great character, so she had to be an even greater one to stand as an equal with him. Nefertiti was in control of everything in palace and it quickly became clear that this book was not going to be about Nefertiti as the Chief Wife to Amenhotep. It was going to be about Nefertiti as Pharaoh and Coregent to Akhenaten. It became the Pharaohs against the world and the price it cost her. As Egypt fell apart around them, we see Nefertiti fighting her best to keep her small paradise of Amarna intact. When it all begins to crumble, the conflict that has been brooding under the sands of Egypt finally comes to full fruition and everything is thrown into chaos.
The resolution of the story hurt my soul. It was beautiful and tragic. It was perfect and flawed. It was everything all at once and I felt like I had taken a fist to the gut when the story finally wound down. Finally, after 400 pages of chaos and uncertainty everything settled the way history wrote it had. It was a bittersweet ending I knew would come and when we see Nefertiti last, my heart felt heavy with her sacrifices. As Mutny so perfectly put it,
. . . only I could see what becoming Pharaoh had cost her . . . I could only guess how heavy her crook and flail must be. (Nefertiti, 439 )
This quote really sums up the entire book for me. It is heavy with what Nefertiti went through and even as I read the words, it weighs on my chest. A beautiful and breathtaking novel. I could not have asked for anything more. I feel like part of my soul has withered away with this book, swept away with the water of the Nile. I feel a deep loss for everything that has happened and even though this all took place over two thousand years ago, to me, the reign of Nefertiti ended only yesterday.
Please let me know what your thoughts were on this magnificent book! I will say that my favorite character in the entire story was Mutny! I loved her every step of the way and I felt everything she felt! What was your favorite character? Let me know!
The Reading Tortie