Friday, 7 October 2011

Kim's Review: The Heretic Queen

I was browsing through flipkart last week and saw a link to Michelle Moran's- Heretic Queen which was supposedly based on the life of Nefertari. Having just finished Christian Jacq's 5 part series on Ramses which had a large part of it dedicated to his realtionship with Nefertari, I thought it would be interesting to read another historical fiction authors take on the same.

The difference was like chalk and cheese, except for perhaps the character of Ramses who just has varying degrees of rashness. If Jacq's Tuya was an intelligent, delicate Queen who helped Seti rule Egypt according to the rule of Ma'at, Moran's Tuya is an overindulged, overweight indolent queen only interested in her iwiw (pet dog)

If Jacq's Seti was a Pharoah with deep insight and who could see into each man's soul and beyond, Moran's Seti is easily led astray by his sisters. Jacq's Isis is a woman of noble birth, completely in love with Ramses who quietly acknowledges her position as secondary wife to Nefertari. Moran's Iset is granddaughter of a harem child whose father is unknown, who is easily led astray and whose only interest in marrying Ramses is to be queen, even though she is in love with another man. Jacq's Uri-Teshup is a violent Hittite forced to seek refuge in Egypt but who continues to plot against Ramses while being his guest. Moran's Urhi is a gentle 17 year old Prince.

Moran's book feels less like a book of historical fiction, and more like a book of fiction with names of historical characters. From whatever I have read on Pharaonic Egypt, Moran's depiction of the court and courtiers is more akin to the English and French courts, than the Pharaonic Egyptian court.

She herself confesses that since so little is known of the actual history, she has played around a lot with the accepted facts. So in her version, Nefertari is the daughter of Queen Mutnodjmet who was the sister of Queen Neferatri. After the death of the heretic king Akhenaten and his Queen Nefertari, their daughter Ankhesenamun who married her half brother and Akhenatens son Tutankhamun came to the throne before his early death. Next it is Neferatri's father Ay, who was Vizier who became Pharoah. General Horemheb, kills them all, sparing only Mutnodjmet who is pregnant with a child from her first husband General Nakhtmin. He keeps her alive and forcibly marries her to claim a right to the throne of Egypt. Queen Mutnodjmet dies giving birth to Nefertari.

After Horemheb's death, his general Ramses I - an old man is named Pharoah. His son Seti is Pharaoh after him and his daughters Henuttawy and Woserit are High Priestesses of Isis and Hathor respectively. Nefertari as a Royal Princess is brought up with Seti's children Ramses II (3 years older to her) and Princess  Pili who is the same age as her. Unfortunately Princess Pili dies at the age of 6, but Ramses and Nefertari grow up as brother and sister. But as a niece of Nefertari who resembles her in looks, she is always under the cloud and suspicion of being a heretic.

At the age of 17 Ramses is crowned co-regent and with the machinations of Henuttawy, he is married to Iset. Woserit takes Nefertari under her wing. The book then deals with the power struggles between Iset and Nefertari, Henuttawy and Woserit, the struggle for freedom of the Habiru (Hebrews) under Ahmose (Moses), the struggle of the Egyptians to survive after 4 years of failed flooding of the Nile.

The book is a page turner. It was very difficult for me to put down, but at the same time I was also questioning what I was reading. "Could it really have happened like that?"

Given the lack of finer details of Pharaonic Egypt, there will always be 100's of theories about the details, the trick for any writer, writing fiction about this age is to come up with a new angle and keep it interesting. Moran  has definitely succeeded in doing that. But saying that, it also veers more towards the chicklit and Romance novel genres than historical fiction. I think what I'm trying to say, is that Heretic Queen is a good story with a good plot but lacking in the depth of content that would truly make it a work of historical fiction.

I already have a copy of her Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution, and I'm quite looking forward to reading it. After that I will decide whether I want to buy the rest of the books in her Egypt series.

Rating: 3.2/5

Also check out my detailed reviews of Christian Jacq's series:
Ramses - The Son of the Light
Ramses - The Temple of a Million Years
Ramses - The Battle of Kadesh
Ramses - The Lady of Abu Simbel
Ramses - Under the Western Acacia

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