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Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Heretic Queen


In ancient Egypt, a forgotten princess must overcome her family’s past and remake history.

The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the Eighteenth Dynasty’s royal family–with the exception of Nefertari, the niece of the reviled former queen, Nefertiti. The girl’s deceased family has been branded as heretical, and no one in Egypt will speak their names. Nefertari is pushed aside, an unimportant princess left to run wild in the palace. But this changes when she is taken under the wing of the Pharaoh’s aunt, then brought to the Temple of Hathor, where she is educated in a manner befitting a future queen.

Soon Nefertari catches the eye of the Crown Prince, and despite her family’s history, they fall in love and wish to marry. Yet all of Egypt opposes this union between the rising star of a new dynasty and the fading star of an old, heretical one. While political adversity sets the country on edge, Nefertari becomes the wife of Ramesses the Great. Destined to be the most powerful Pharaoh in Egypt, he is also the man who must confront the most famous exodus in history.


Moran's voyage through Ancient Egypt continues with this stark account of a young girl's struggle with a false reputation, in this case that of a heretic, quite the cardinal sin of that era. This vivid account of two high priestesses and their shameless vying for the attention of the god-like Pharaoh is as riveting as one has come to expect from an author in tune with herself as well as her specialized subject. Our heroine is Nefertari, niece of Nefertiti, as she embarks on the dauntless task of shedding her reputation as the niece of a heretic, to restore her mother's name and family to glory and to win the love of Pharaoh Ramesses.
Does she succeed? Well, that you will need to discover for yourself, but we'll give you a won't want to draw breath until that last page has been turned. This is a top-notch novel about a famous chapter in of the world's most intriguing settings and, as with all of Michelle Moran's Egypt books, there's a vast amount of vivid description concerning the rich variety of scenarios and customs of the time which is always an essential element in a historical novel. The protagonist and narrator is Nefertari, a very young princess - (aged from 13 to 16 throughout the course of the book) - who is the niece of Queen Nefertiti.
This book is a sequel to Moran's first novel, Nefertiti, but one does not necessarily need to have read or studied Nefertiti before, which is a tribute to the absorbing style and conciseness of Moran's story-telling. Indeed, it is a novel that consumes much of what we would expect from a literary epic filled with politics, interesting characters, and vivid descriptions of Ancient Egypt, rife with mythology and active with love, betrayal, bitter rivalries, death and war. Michelle Moran guides us through each scintillating passage of events with consummate ease and a skill that had me believing I was truly there in Ancient Egypt caught in the struggle of these two exhilarating characters as the plot thickens with every page and the mythology and religion portrayed in each scene becoming more and more part of the every day life that it once was. The novel does include definitions of Egyptian terms and names at the back to ease any confusion and also tells you about the real Nefertari and Ramesses, amongst many others.
The origins of Nefertari are somewhat vague but from the discoveries of her tomb there are strong suggestions that she may have been related to the 18th Dynasty. In The Heretic Queen, Moran manages to merge fact and fiction almost seamlessly on account of the thoroughness of her research and her ability to fill historical gaps with plausible imagination. It is a dazzling recreation of the life of an almost mythical queen in a story emblazoned with all the rigors of court politics, the passion of the all-mighty and overly-powerful, the sights and sounds of gruesome battle and the love of two gifted personalities. There's an old saying that a book's best page is its last and one can only feel a sense of frustration with a hint of disappointment when this point arrives in The Heretic Queen, because this book is simply brilliant and a pure pleasure to read, from beginning to end. Michelle Moran has a unique gift to tell a story in a most amazing, intriguing and fascinating way.
This is a no-sleep-until-it's-finished page-turner of the highest order. Born in the San Fernando Valley, CA, Moran took an interest in writing from an early age and in later in life as she travelled around the world, from Zimbabwe to India, her experiences took her to many of the most important archaeological sites which ultimately inspired her to write historical fiction, the fruit of which we have the pleasure of digesting in this excellent book.