Some would call the Pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti visionaries. They ended the polytheistic religion of Egypt and destroyed the greedy and corrupt temples of Amun. They instituted a revolutionary monotheistic system, worshipping one God, the Aten. Unfortunately, thousands of years of religious belief could not be erased so easily. Their reign ended in disaster and the old religious order was restored, ending a line of kings stretching back over a hundred years.
Michelle Moran starts this novel several years after the events of her first novel, Nefertiti. The sole survivor from the previous royal line is Princess Nefertari, niece of Nefertiti. She has been raised at the court of the current Pharaoh, Seti I, and alongside the royal heir, Ramesses. They are fast friends. In fact, he is one of her only friends and the only reason the other children tolerate her. She is the victim of the backlash of hatred against her deceased family. She is called ‘heretic’ and worse and is blamed for the actions of her relatives.
As they grow up, the close friendship of Nefertari and Ramesses blossoms into love. But few at court want Nefertari as Egypt’s queen and her enemies try to turn the people against her, too. Fortunately for Nefertari, she is a gifted woman. She has an affinity for language and is able to learn the political intricacies of the court. She has brains and courage. Her journey to the throne of Egypt is breathtaking.
The author has vividly recreated the stunning courts and palaces of Ancient Egypt. Her imagining of the life of Queen Nefertari and the Pharaoh who will be known to history as Ramesses the Great makes for an engrossing and fascinating historical novel. I particularly liked the inclusion of the Egyptian calendar at the end of the book, the first of these that I have seen. I have read quite a lot of historical fiction set in Ancient Egypt and have always wondered how their calendar of seasons corresponds to our own.
I loved The Heretic Queen and impatiently await Ms. Moran’s next book, Cleopatra’s Daughter. Visit her wonderful website!
The Heretic Queen is published by Crown. ISBN 978-0-307-38175-0.