Lisa's Reviews > The Eye of Re

The Eye of Re by Patricia L. O'Neill
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's review
Jun 28, 12

it was ok
bookshelves: ancient-egypt-fiction, historical-fiction, aussie-author-but-not-aussie-book
Read from June 27 to 28, 2012 , read count: 1

I had high hopes for The Hatshepsut Trilogy. The first book had won an award, the reviews I found were generally positive. With the emphasis placed on focusing on the "true" story of Hatshepsut and its recent publication (this volume, the final, was published in 2011), I expected I would find a historically accurate account of Hatshepsut's life based on the most up-to-date knowledge of Hatshepsut.

I was disappointed. I'm pretty sure that's an understatement.

Patricia L. O'Neill is a skilled writer, but her writing could be better disciplined. There were a few scenes and sentences that could have been tighter, few sentences I face-palmed over, and a few phrases/words that seemed way too modern (e.g. a discussion of atheism). On the whole, the writing is good. I'm really not sure about that ending, either. In fact, I went looking for a cat picture to probably illustrate my reaction to it:

(view spoiler)

The characterisations also need work. Hatshepsut and Senenmut are both can-do-no-wrong characters, unless they're fighting with each other, in which case Senenmut is the one in the wrong. The good characters are all bland and vaguely likeable and the villains are all despicable. Villainy runs in the family for O'Neill's Egypt, even if they never met the person and is all due to an attitude of "oh noes, a powerful woman!" Which doesn't make any sense since Egyptian women were so well treated, and Hatshepsut was preceded by a number of strong women, such as Ahmose-Nefertari.

Thutmose III is probably the most fascinating character of the bunch, but he veered too often as being dismissed as being solely interested in war and killing. The real Thutmose is the warrior king of Ancient Egypt (sorry, Ramesses II), but he showed a great deal of interest in other areas during his lifetime – he even attempted to introduce chickens to Egypt!

His relationship with Hatshepsut is one that fascinates me, and O'Neill's depiction of their relationship disappoints. It's based the old "seething with rage" theory that is now largely no longer believed since it would mean 20 years seething with rage before he actually did something about it. Egyptologists now question whether he was responsible for the destruction of Hatshepsut's kingly monuments, or whether it was his eventual successor, Amenhotep II (who O'Neill presents as being sympathetic to Hatshepsut). At any rate, even if he was responsible, his reasons were probably a lot more complex and more honourable than what O'Neill presents.

Or maybe I'm just biased because I think his statue is so darn pretty. See:

O'Neill clearly has done her research and is fond of her topic, but I can't help but wonder if her love for Hatshepsut has acted as blinkers in other places or as imperative to make Hatshepsut the heroine at all costs.

What drove Hatshepsut to have herself declared king is a big unknown. Her own justifications – she was the daughter of Amun, she was the real heir of Thutmose I – are largely believed to be fictions. The reasons why Egypt's other female pharaohs took the throne are more clear: they were the last of their dynasty. This was not the case for Hatshepsut, as she waited until Year 7 of Thutmose III's reign before declaring herself pharaoh. Whether was some crisis that pushed her to make this move and to be widely accepted has been speculated but as I understand it, there is no evidence at all of this.

O'Neill's Hatshepsut takes to the throne because Thutmose II dies with no heir, and it's only later that it's discovered that Iset is pregnant with the future Thutmose III. This is a falsehood. I'm sorry if you think it's getting old to hear me bleat on about this, but really, I just can't get over with it.

When a book uses a tagline like "the true story of…", as every volume of The Hatshepsut Trilogy does, then you expect the book to be meticulously researched, and any deprivations from fact are avoided unless absolutely necessary, and then explained and justified. Yet The Hatshepsut Trilogy drops a huge clunker in the first book and never explains it. It is my belief that, if a historical fiction writer claims to be authentic and to have done serious research, that writer should adhere to the truth closely and own up when they don't, or else risk being seen as lacking in credibility. This is exactly the problem I have with O'Neill's trilogy. I can't hand-wave a clunker like that, and O'Neill's claim to be writing the "true saga" of Hatshepsut goes through the floor.

I hope O'Neill continues to write about Ancient Egypt, but there's room for a lot of improvement.

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