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.

Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Havely

Book Title: Triumph of Deborah
Author: Eva Etzioni-HavelyPublisher: Plume (February 26, 2008)
Paperback: 368 pages
Rating: 4.5 /5 stars

I had a sudden urge to read a historical novel this weekend. Since I own only a couple, the choice was easy. I had read a lot of reviews of ‘Triumph of Deborah’ and knew it was generally liked. So I didn’t hesitate to pick it up.

And yes, I liked it. In fact, I loved it. I had absolutely no knowledge about Deborah. So before reading the book I googled a little and found out that she was a highly respected prophet, a judge and a leader of Israel. And the fact that she was a woman and yet respected so much during that era was inspiring.

Okay, let’s jump to the book. Inspire of all her efforts, Deborah is unable to establish peace between the Canaanites and her people. Seeing that she has no choice but to go to war, she decides to appoint Barak as the chief. Barak is very young and inexperienced but she decides to trust him based on his past victories. Barak, although resistant at first, feels like he has no option. He leads Israel to victory against Canaanites.

In the Canaan country, the King gives the responsibility of war to Sisra who also marries his daughter Asherah renowned for her beauty. The King has another daughter Nogah from an Israeli slave and whose knowledge is kept a secret.

When Barak captures the Canaan Castle, he is smitten by Asherah’s beauty, so he takes her as his captive. Nogah accepts a job as a maid in Barak’s mansion. Thus begins a love triangle between Barak, Asherah and Nogah. Barak is smitten by Asherah and Nogah is in love with Barak, but Asherah hates Barak because she thinks he is responsible for her husband Sisra’s death. She waits for an opportunity to kill Barak and make him pay for his deeds.

Deborah, meanwhile, through her prophecies and her visions helps avoid another was between Israel and Canaan. In the end, Deborah, Barak, Asherah and Nogah help in bringing peace to the land.

Deborah is very strong willed and admirable. She is true to her people and is willing to sacrifice her personal life as well. I was surprised that I had never read much about the love triangle in any of the reviews. Considering it takes up more than half of the book, it’s a major part of ‘Triumph of Deborah’. I love romance books so I was in fact happy that there was this angle to it. But I do think some people might be annoyed by the number of chapters dedicated to it. So I just thought of mentioning it here.

I learned a lot about Deborah as a biblical character. The writing style is simple which makes it easier to get engrossed in the story. Although I won’t call it a character driven novel, I felt strongly about all of them; be it Deborah, Nogah, Asherah or Barak. In fact I hated Barak. He was a womanizer and he let his lust overpower all his senses. Nogah, I thought, was a fool for loving a man like Barak. But love has no logic right?

Conclusion: I highly recommend this book. I am definitely going to be on a lookout for Eva Etzioni-Havely’s other books- The Song of Hannah and The Garden of Ruth.

Isn’t this a beautiful trio?

books

I am adding this book to Orbis Terrarum challenge. The author was born in Vienna, Austria.

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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The last Empress

The first book Empress Orchid is about how a young village girl of 17 called Orchid becomes the Empress of China. The book ends with her husband’s death and with her taking the reins of the kingdom. All I can say is please read Empress Orchid. Here is my review from last year.

The next book ‘The last Empress’ is about her rule as an Empress.

It was the time when the foreign powers like Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, and Russia were trying to rip china to pieces and trying to establish their own trade in the country. It was the time of tremendous turmoil when the missionaries came to preach Christianity and set up churches in the country. It was also the time of the Boxers Rebellion which the shook the entire country and the Forbidden palace as well.

When her son, the Emperor of China died of a disease she had to take over the reigns of the country and also train a new emperor. She chose her sisters son Gong and adopted him. But Gong was basically a weak child and was plagued by depression in his twenties. At the age when she wanted to retire and let her adopted son manage the kingdom, she realized her son was unable to take the right decisions for the benefit of her country. He embraced the wrong people and the Empress was unable to do anything about it.

It’s amazing and sometimes shocking to see how foreigners exploited China on its own land. They came to China under some pretext or another and when there was no reason for them to be there, they refused to leave. When there were uprisings because of the foreign invasions, they had the audacity to demand more money and acquire more land in China. Even the missionaries were used for this purpose. When the Chinese rebelled against the missionaries and their agenda to convert as many people to Christianity as possible, the people rebelled. Some of the missionaries were killed. Again the foreigners had the audacity to ask compensation for it.

China was eroding slowly and there was nothing anyone could do about it. The people of China blamed the foreign invasions and in turn the government for not getting them under control.  On top of all this were the natural calamities like floods and draughts.

And caught between the midsts of all this was the Empress of China. Her husband failed her, her son failed her too and the adopted son was very easily disheartened. She was the only hope of the Chinese people. At the age of 61, instead of watching her son take over the throne and give her some rest, she had to endure her son’s illness, his depression and finally his death. She took over the reins because of her love for China and its people. In spite of all this she was always held responsible for her husbands and sons death and many other wrong doings all because people thought she wanted to stay in power.

Anchee Min described the Empresses possible state of mind very well. She brought to life one of the strongest and most famous personalities of Chinese history. She gave a human touch to her that was far different from what the historians and the foreign reporters put forward. She showed her daily struggle with the court members, training an heir for China and repressing her inner feelings and cravings for love. Just reading about what she faced exhausted me.

After reading the first book Empress Orchid, I was fascinated by a woman called Orchid or the Last empress of China, but after reading this book I feel honored for knowing this woman even if it’s just through a fictionalized account.

Essentially there are 2 different viewpoints to what the Dowager Empress of China was. One that she was an evil mastermind who wanted only power and the other that she was a result of circumstances and did her best for China and it’s people. I am ready to believe the later.

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Shadow of Colossus by Tracy Higley

Title: Shadow of Colossus
Author: T.L.Higley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Set in: Greece
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:
The place is the island of Rhodes; the time, 227 BC. In the ten years that Tessa of Delos has been in bondage as a hetaeira, a high-priced Greek courtesan to a wealthy politician, she has learned to abandon all desire for freedom and love. But when her owner meets a violent death, Tessa is given the chance to be free—if she can hide the truth of his death and maintain a masquerade until escape is possible. Now Tessa must battle for her own freedom and for those she is beginning to love, as forces collide that will shatter the island’s peace and bring even its mighty Colossus to its knees.

My Thoughts:

Tessa has been a hetaeira, a mistress, for more than 10 years, a captive with one of the island’s most powerful politician Glaucus. All she wants is freedom. Fate gives her a chance when her master dies accidentally leaving Tessa with 2 choices. Either be hanged to death if charged with his murder or pass on to her next master who could be more if not equally brutal as her previous master. She chooses none of these.

She decides to free herself from all the bondage by running away from the island, if only she could keep the death of the most powerful man on the Rhodes Island a secret for a few days.

Enter Nikos. Nikos is on a mission. His father has sent him to gather the workings of the politics of the Island of Rhodes. And the best way to start is at Glaucus’s home. A few days before Glaucus’s death, he manages to get a job as the head servant in his house. But when he reaches there, he finds out the secret which is known only to 3 people on the entire Island, Tessa, her present head servant Simeon and Glaucus’s daughter Persephone.

He decides to help Tessa escape the island.

Shadow of colossus has everything I want in a book. It has suspense, romance, rich details, beautiful writing and a lovable cast of characters. Even though the book is written from different point of views, and you know what is going to happen next, the author keeps you on the edge of your seat till the very end.

I loved Tessa. She is a woman with great strength. And I loved Nikos. His struggle between following his father’s wishes and wishes of his heart is very well portrayed. The writing is so beautiful; I almost smiled at the beauty of some of the sentences.

This is the first book in the ‘Seven Wonders’ series. The next book is ‘City of the dead’ which is based in Egypt. Go to the authors site here, which also has a link to all the beautiful places in Rhodes Island as well as the history.

This a wonderful and a satisfying read. I have a new favorite author now. I say go grab your copy.

To read the review of another book from this series, Guardian of the Flame, go here.

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