Wednesday, May 16, 2007

NEFERTITI A Novel by Michelle Moran

I first became aware of this debut novel a couple of months ago when I was Slashing & Burning one of my own into a comprehensible draft, COALESCENCE OF BENNU AND RA. Those of you familiar with Ancient Egypt may know that Ra is the name of the main god. Bennu is the Egyptian phoenix. I drew on Ancient Egypt and Ancient China for inspiration in creating the alien Menelaen culture, religion, and history. One of the things I searched for was a powerful queen and Nefertiti was all that.

I was totally floored when Michelle offered to have an advanced copy of NEFERTITI sent to me! Whoa, yes! This review is of that copy. The rest of you will have to wait until it comes out in hardcover on July 10th and, no, I will NOT be hawking mine on eBay!

NEFERTITI is told from the viewpoint of her younger sister, Mutnodjmet, also called 'Mutny' by her family. The story starts with the untimely death of Pharoah's eldest and beloved son, Tuthmosis. Along with a few others, Mutny fears the death was hastened by the ambitious younger son, Amunhotep. Nefertiti isn't too concerned with all this. Even at age 15, she has ambitions of her own. She's beautiful, dazzlingly clevor, and the daughter of a princess. She's in a good position to become queen. Two years younger and born of a different mother, Mutny is very close to her sister with just a few stabs of jealousy mixed in.

The marriage takes place and Nefertiti meets her first challenge head-on. Amunhotep has a first wife of whom he is fond. This threatens her elevation to queen. Ancient Egyptians afforded more rights and freedoms to women than other cultures of the time. Still, what Nefertiti does is rather audacious.

If you're wary of historicals, let me reassure you that Michelle does an excellent job conveying the fact that human nature is timeless. Nefertiti is like a high school cheerleader going after the captain of the football team to raise her social status. The huge difference is that 17 year old Amunhotep will be king of one of the most powerful nations of his time.

Nefertiti does have a conscious and that is her family. They're truly altruistic even when she gets carried away with the trappings of her position. From my point of view, it's this consciousness and loyalty that enables Nefertiti to be the power behind the Throne by the end.

Nefertiti's not an annoying witch. She is a beautifully flawed human being.

Amunhotep ascends the Throne a while after the wedding and his ambitions kick into full gear. To the shock of most, he does away with the traditional gods of Egypt and replaces them with the worship of one god, Aten, the image of the sun. He changes his name to Akhenaten and Nefertiti manages to keep him away from the other wife most of the time. Nevertheless, while Nefertiti proceeds to pop out one baby girl after the other, the other wife ends up with two sons. Meanwhile, Akhenaten's impatient and obsessive building of his own monuments, palaces, and a new capital city saps the national treasury and takes the army away from defending the borders. Rebellion brews.

I totally got into Mutny's heart. Power has a way of putting a person under threat, surrounded by people who can't be trusted. Nefertiti knows that people talk to Mutny because she's a good listener, and she's loyal. Nefertiti clings to Mutny to the point of becoming possessive. Mutny's no doormat though.

I wish I could tell you more, but then I'd ruin the suspense. The magic Michelle works with NEFERTITI is in the way she conveys the humanity we can all relate to. And she does it without falling back on the crutch of using a contemporary voice which ruins so many otherwise good historicals these days.

You don't need to know anything about Ancient Egypt to enjoy this novel. Michelle does a wonderful job of transporting the reader back in time so you can see and smell everything, and without being too wordy about it.

NEFERTITI is historical fiction first, but it does have romance. Again, Michelle makes that all feel real. The focus is on the emotions and everything is well-developed and well-balanced.

NEFERTITI A Novel by Michelle Moran is due out July 10th, but you can pre-order it from Amazon. com right now.


Gwyneth Bolton said...

Sounds great, Kimber An. I'll have to add this one to my list.


Kimber An said...

It is a great one. From what I've read, Nefertiti's aunt, Queen Tiye, was black. If Michelle pops in, maybe she can clarify. I know some Egyptian pharoahs were Nubian. In the novel, Akhanaten's personal bodyguards are Nubian. Hey, Michelle, can you tell us a little more about that?

Michelle Moran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle Moran said...

Ooops... the links didn't work. Let's try that again.

To answer your question, Kimberley, ancient Egypt was very, very racially diverse. From the south of Egypt came people who were what we would consider today African, from the Aegean came people who we would consider today as white (Cleopatra was a Greek Ptolemy), from Libya came people with light curly beards while the Hittites were depicted as having long dark hair. The citizenry was a large mix, as were the Pharaohs.

Having said that, it is unknown what race Tiye herself was since her mummy has never been positively identified. Some scholars believe that she is the Elder woman found in KV55 (the first mummy on my Mummy page here.
This is, in part, based on the fact that a lock of her hair was found in Tut's tomb, and as Tut's grandmother this would make sense. If this is the case, she had long blondish hair as you can see from her mummy, although in life she would have covered it up with a Nubian wig.

Light hair was not as shocking in Egypt as the media would have people think. DNA tests done by Dr. Woodward show that Ramesses was a six-foot tall red head, despite how he's portrayed on TV and in the movies, and that the red hair was not a byproduct of the alkaline used in the mummification process, or even henna. The Egyptian god of destruction and mischief (Seth) had red hair as well, which may be the origin of the modern association of angry, fiery personalities and red heads.

However, the earliest and latest pharaohs were clearly not red-haired or blond. They had African features, and their mummies can be identified as such through DNA testing.

To see more mummies you can go here.

Kimber An said...

I think where I got the idea that Queen Tiye was black was from a sculpture attributed to her. Of course, the identity of the person in every painting and sculpture cannot be confirmed.

Ramses a six foot redhead? Oh, that's going to be difficult to reconcile with Yul Brenner's portrayal of him. Wasn't he the sexiest villain ever?

Michelle Moran said...

Ha! I was thinking of him when I wrote the post. Although I like redheads, Yul Brenner was the ultimate. Maybe Ramesses was a red head with a tan...

I do know which statue you're speaking of. I visited it in Berlin's Altes Museum and it's the fourth photo here. She is wearing her Nubian wig. And yes, portraits were often stylized, so that all kings were shown to be thin and young, no matter their age, and all women had slightly lighter skin while men, in the paintings, had slightly darker skin. There is no way this could have been the case, but it was depicted as such until Akhenaten and Nefertiti came along and turned everything upside down.

Kimber An said...

Yes, that's the sculpture! I think her facial features look African as well.

Everyone, you should check out the link Michelle provided! There are lots of wonderful pictures of artifacts.

LadyBronco said...

I love Eguptian history, and I can't wait for this to come out!