The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran

Title: The Heretic Queen
Author: Michelle Moran
Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (September 16, 2008)
Hardcover: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

About the book: The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the 18th dynasty’s royal family—all with the exception of Nefertari, 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. A relic of a previous reign, Nefertari is pushed aside, an unimportant princess left to run wild in the palace. But all of this changes when she is taken under the wing of pharaoh’s aunt, and 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.

“My love is unique–no one can rival her, for she is the most beautiful woman alive. Just by passing, she has stolen away my heart”.

This poetry was written by Ramesses for his beloved wife Nefertari and engraved on the walls of her burial site. The Heretic Queen is the story of this woman and her struggle to achieve her dream.

The entire family of Nefertari is wiped out in the fire and her mother Mutnodjmet dies after giving birth to her. Nefertari is left alone in the royal castle with her nurse Merit. But Nefertari’s present and future is plagued by her past, by the deeds of her heretic ancestors, her aunt Nefertiti and Akhenaton. Nefertari is in love with Ramesses, the son of Pharaoh Seti and the heir to the throne. But Ramesses is forced to choose Iset as his wife because the people of Egypt are against making a heretic’s niece a queen and fear the wrath of Amun, their God.

Ramesses marries Nefertari later against everyone’s wishes but he cannot make her the Chief Queen. Nefertari has to win the hearts of her people first and prove to them that she is not a heretic like her aunt Nefertiti.

Author Michelle Moran has yet again managed to bring ancient Egypt to life. She is a superb storyteller and knows how to fill in the historical gaps and make the characters more compelling than they might have been in reality. Nefertari was more likable than Nefertiti but it could also be because in this novel, the narrator itself was Nefertari. This book shows her struggle to win over her people, to keep Iset and her enemies at bay, to help Ramesses and the court. But underneath it all, The Heretic Queen is essentially a love story, a love story between Ramesses and Nefertari.

I have always been interested in Egypt and have read and seen so much about it that I was utterly confused between the innumerable pharaohs and queens. This book sorted it out for me. It kind of gave me a sketch. Michelle Moran also gives in the Historical Facts behind her book as to what is assumed, so there is no question of being misguided. Although not as dramatic and scandalous as Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen is equally fascinating. Author Diana Gabaldon calls Nefertiti “Compulsively readable!” and the same can be said for “The Heretic Queen”. This book is entertaining and a pure pleasure to read.

Her next book is Cleopatra’s Daughter and I’m sure it will be as good as Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen.

Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

Title: Nefertiti
Author: Michelle Moran
Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (July 10, 2007)
Genre: Historical Fiction
480 pages.

It’s 1351 BCE. Tuthmosis, the older brother of Amunhotep is dead and the wise men of Egypt have concluded that Amunhotep has killed his brother for power, to become the pharaoh.

And as the author Michelle Moran puts it

Whatever the truth, that night the crown prince, Tuthmosis, dies, and a new crown prince rose to take his place”.

Thus begins the story of greed, unlimited power, dirty politics and one family’s journey into royalty.Nefertiti is chosen by Amunhotep’s mother and her aunt as his wife and the chief Queen. Nefertiti’s entire family has to move to the palace when she gets married. Her father is a vizier to the pharaoh, so we get to know both sides of politics.

Nefertiti is very ambitious and is ready to assist the pharaoh in his heretic ambitious. But the pharaohs’ plans are way ahead of anyone could ever imagine. He wants to forsake Egypt’s ancient God Amun and give its place to a smaller god Aten. He destroys all the temples built for Amun and forbids his people from worshipping him. He builds an entirely new city called Amarna and glorifies himself and his queen Nefertiti by carving their statues and painting their faces everywhere.

Nefertiti does not stop Amunhotep because she realizes that it was the only opportunity to make herself immortal and be remembered through centuries. Like the pharaoh, she turns a blind eye on the political unrest, encroaching enemies and devotes herself entirely to the pharaoh and her ambitions.

This is not Nefertiti’s story alone. It is the story of her sister Mutnodjmet (Mutny) too . In fact I was surprised to find that the narrator is Mutny. She is the exact opposite of Nefertiti. Where Nefertiti wants power, Mutny wants a quiet life in one of the villages, away from all the politics. But for the sake of her sister and her family she becomes Nefertiti’s handmaiden.

There is so much to write about this book and the characters, but I don’t want to spoil the book for those who haven’t read it. The story and the backdrop are interesting; yes, but what brings life to the story are the characters. I loved how author Michelle Moran has constructed a story around an era which is still not entirely explored. Weaving a story around a civilization and characters as ancient as these, must have required a lot of research. There is a lot of information on Michelle Moran’s site which is very interesting. Do check it out.

Nefertiti is a good thriller and a good story which kept me up late turning the pages. Honestly I didn’t want it to end. But then I do have her second book The Heretic Queen, so that’s a solace.

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