I was "made" to read this for a university class, and I am so glad that I was, because it's a really...moreThere are no words for how much I love this book.
I was "made" to read this for a university class, and I am so glad that I was, because it's a really stunning book. I re-read it for the first time this year, half-expecting for my love to be lessened but it wasn't. I still have no idea how I could have waited so long to re-read.(less)
My original three-star rating reflected how quickly I devoured the book and how much I didn't find as offensive to my intelligence as Christian Jacq's...moreMy original three-star rating reflected how quickly I devoured the book and how much I didn't find as offensive to my intelligence as Christian Jacq's Ramses series*. I always knew it wasn't particularly well-written and the characterisations were two-dimensional.
This year, reflecting on the ratings I had given other historical fiction novels, I decided to re-read these again more critically, and see what I felt about Michelle Moran's Egyptian books.
To start off with the positives, Moran's story remains "compulsively readable" as the quote on the cover says. It's perfect to read without heavy involvement, so it's perfect to read quickly. It's interesting to see Nefertiti through the eyes of her sister, Mutnodjmet, normally a minor character in retellings of the Amarna period.
However, I have to mention the similarities to The Other Boleyn Girl. I read The Other Boleyn Girl for the first time recently, so in this re-read, I started noting the all similarities. There's a lot. Moran must have either been incredibly unlucky or incredibly inspired.
OK, time for the weaknesses. All the characters just... there. The characters are basically tropes that sort of fit with historical fact and the most attractive or popular (and often outdated) historical theories. So we Mutnodjmet as the good but plain and naive girl, Nefertiti as the spoilt brat. Akhenaten as the religious fanatic. Horemheb as the (over)ambitious general, Nakhtmin is the vanilla-flavoured love interest and so on.
I get the sense that Moran would like these characters to be more richly detailed, but lacks the skill or subtlety to push these tropes into realistic characters. Nefertiti remains unlikable, and her competition with Kiya never rises above a two catty, high school girls competing over a guy.
There's no depth to the writing, either. These incredibly traumatic events happen, and you feel that there's a distance from the emotion, even when they directly involve Mutnodjmet. It feels like she's often narrating these events without acknowledging that they're happening to her. It could be a stylistic choice, but it doesn't appear to be deliberate.
As for historical fact, Moran picks and chooses what she wants to use. For example, she ignores that many of Akhenaten's revolutions had their roots deeply embedded in Amenhotep III's own reign (i.e. the cult of the Aten was heavily promoted by Amenhotep III, who even had himself deified as the Dazzling Aten). I found her treatment of Amenhotep III is supremely distasteful, and seems to hinge on the theory that Tiye did all the work, while he was a fat hedonist. There is NO evidence for this theory aside from the fact that he was overweight and that he raised Tiye up to a similar height to him.
Moran also adopts the theories of a length Amenhotep III/Akhenaten co-regency and that Nefertiti = Neferneferuaten = Smenkhkara. This is highly debatable and in no way the "most probable" solution. What's more, they don't hold up to any scrutiny.
There's a lot of really nitpick-y stuff that drives me to distraction about this book. So I could go on, but I don't want to turn this review into a ten page rant.
TL:DR? Highly flawed, but easy to read.
* No, really. One chapter is "there is a plot to kill Ramses! The food has been poisoned! Ramses is about to eat it! There's an emergency! No dinner for Ramses! The servants consider eating it! But they don't! They pour it away! Poison kills no one! Bwahahaha!"(less)
Following on from my re-reading of Moran's Nefertiti, I also re-read the sequel, The Heretic Queen, and this is my revised rating from three to two s...moreFollowing on from my re-reading of Moran's Nefertiti, I also re-read the sequel, The Heretic Queen, and this is my revised rating from three to two stars.
In this book, Moran gives us the love story of Nefertari and Ramesses, weaving into it opposition on the basis that Nefertari (fictionally) was the niece of Nefertiti, and the competition between Nefertari and Ramesses' other wife, Istnofret (dubbed "Iset" in the book), in the race to become queen.
I enjoy this book more, partly because Moran shows some improvement in her plotting, but more importantly, because I ship Ramesses/Nefertari like whoa.
Having said that, Moran wants us to feel that Nefertari deserves to be Queen, and then uses a sledgehammer to point it out to us. Nefertari is tragic. Nefertari is intelligent and skilful. Nefertari is a queen's daughter. Nefertari really loves Ramesses. Meanwhile, Iset is shallow, dumb, in love with another man and has no relation to royalty.
Meanwhile, Ramesses has no agency in the whole thing and Iset v. Nefertari ends up resembling Taylor Swift's You Belong With Me music video set in Ancient Egypt. But I'll give Moran kudos by letting Iset redeem herself at the end.
Obviously, there's no real improvement in Moran's characters. Nefertari is Mutnodjmet with the body of Nefertiti and the desire to be Queen. Ramesses is constantly described as rash, yet doesn't act rash, and doesn't do much at all to identify him as Ramesses II (where his ego?!). The chief villain, Henuttawy, is utterly ridiculous because she's so hot that all men can't see how obviously evil bitchy she is. Iset is much the same, only replace bitchy with whiny and stupid.
I don't blame Moran for changing Amenhirkhepeshef to Amunher, since every time I see Amenhirkhepeshef, I read it as Amun's handkerchief which is probably v. disrespectful. I don't understand what was so difficult about Istnofret, though.
One of the major flaws for me is that a major part of the plot is built on conceit. It's incredibly unlikely that Nefertari was the niece of Nefertiti. Moran has to perform contortions to get the dates to line up, and even contradicts her Nefertiti timeline, additionally ignoring archaeological evidence to rely on dodgy Manetho dating. Mutnodjmet may have died giving birth, but it's unlikely her baby lived, considering the mummy commonly believed to be hers was interred with a stillborn baby.
Additionally, I struggled with the assertions that Ramesses was going to have Nefertari's family remembered, because he totally didn't. In fact, he followed Horemheb's lead and continued the destruction of Amarna and the monuments of the Amarna royals.
In short, I like the ship Moran is pushing in this novel better than in Nefertiti and felt her writing had improved, but The Heretic Queen remains disappointing with two-dimensional characterisations, and unsubtle and inaccurate writing. (less)