Plot Summary (from Amazon): Nefertiti and her younger sister, Mutnodjmet, have been raised in a powerful family that has provided wives to the rulers of Egypt for centuries. Ambitious, charismatic, and beautiful, Nefertiti is destined to marry Amunhotep, an unstable young pharaoh. It is hoped that her strong personality will temper the young ruler’s heretical desire to forsake Egypt’s ancient gods.
From the moment of her arrival in Thebes, Nefertiti is beloved by the people but fails to see that powerful priests are plotting against her husband’s rule. The only person brave enough to warn the queen is her younger sister, yet remaining loyal to Nefertiti will force Mutnodjmet into a dangerous political game; one that could cost her everything she holds dear.
Soundtrack: I know, I’m terrible. But I have to say “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles. Either that or the Steve Martin SNL spoof “King Tut.” (Nerd Alert: The identity of King Tut’s mother isn’t certain, but DNA evidence points to a third wife and possible sister of the Pharaoh Akhenaten/Amunhotep.) As much as I enjoyed this story, I haven’t thought through my new “soundtrack” requirement enough to apply modern music to historical fiction. Must work on that.
I’ve been a huge historical fiction nut since I first read my now well-worn copy of “The Other Boleyn Girl” in college. On a recent visit to Goodreads, my attention was grabbed by the cover of Michelle Moran’s recent novel “Madame Tussaud,” and I had to click over to do some research into her other books. Prior to tackling the French revolution, she wrote three novels set in Ancient Egypt- a time and place which I had yet to explore in a literary sense.
Nefertiti is told from the point of view of the queen’s younger sister, who watches her beautiful older sister go from princess, to queen, and finally to Pharaoh. There were some immediate similarities between this book and “The Other Boleyn Girl,” notably the less gregarious narrator who provides us with a view of the events of the story. Mutnodjmet (or “Mutny”, for short) is content with living in the shadow of her sister, until she starts to realize that her entire life has been placed on hold.
Nefertiti was originally married to the young prince Amunhotep as a means to curb his eccentricities and to keep her family close to the throne of Egypt. As it quickly becomes clear that the Pharaoh is more unstable than anyone suspected, Nefertiti’s own ambitions come to light. Before long, the two are swept up in their plans for a “new” Egypt, free from the religion and traditions that have come before them.
As a character, Nefertiti is very similar to the brittle and glittering Anne Boleyn in Philippa Gregory’s novel- her ambition and desire to be loved know no bounds and she quickly loses touch with the realities of governing an empire. She is instead obsessed with keeping the Pharaoh’s attention upon herself (rather than his second wife who has given him a son and possible heir), being worshiped by her people and being remembered long after her death.
Seeing Mutnodjmet’s character evolve through the course of the novel is enjoyable, and the rich detail incorporated into the story does a wonderful job of immersing the reader. The only difficulty that I had was keeping track of the many characters, whose Ancient Egyptian names were extremely similar (Pharoah took the name Akhenaten after coronation, and his daughters with Nefertiti were Meritaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Neferneferuaten… ya follow?). I would definitely recommend this book to someone who’s read practically everything there is to read about Henry VIII (whut.) and is looking for another trainwrecky royal family to explore.
PS- I have to give a quick shout out to my newest project: I’ll be a contributing reviewer over at The Readers Cafe, a fun new blog created by Amy from Hamlet’s Mistress. We’ve got a great bunch of ladies reviewing over there with varied reading tastes and writing styles. Stop by and see what we’re up to!