The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: **** (out of 5)
Recommended for: Philippa Gregory fans, people who like historical fiction, beach read
Book 10 of 52 in the “Around the World” Challenge
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.
The Heretic Queen is considered book #2 in a series, but I read it before reading the first one (Nefertiti) because I had a copy of it. Not a problem. The book gives enough of Nefertiti’s story for it to stand on its own, but I am interested to read Nefertiti to see if there are parallels that can be drawn.
This book tells the story from the perspective of Nefertari, who begins as a young girl in a royal court where she is adored by the Pharaoh Seti and his son Ramesses but disliked and distrusted by others because of her relation to the previous dynasty, one now branded as heretical. In many ways, I was reminded of The Other Boleyn Girl. It’s fun to read about women scheming against each other while the man who thinks he has all the power is actually just a pawn in the game. The politics could have benefited from more nuance, though, rather than having the characters be pretty black-and-white with their motives. Still, I enjoyed watching Nefertari grow into her position and deal with her adversaries with grace and intelligence. The plot moved quickly and kept me interested in what was happening.
The book description indicates that the Jewish exodus from Egypt will play a large role in the story. The event did make an appearance, with Moses as “Ahmoses” petitioning for the “Habiru” to be freed. However, the plagues and dramatic exodus did not occur, and it seems like all references to that could have been removed from the book without affecting anything.
With historical fiction like this, I do wonder how much of it is faithful to the known facts. I’d probably be less thrilled with the novel if I found out later that a lot of it was inaccurate, but on first read, I found it to be a light, pleasant way to experience a bit of Egyptian history.