Thursday, October 9, 2008

THE HERETIC QUEEN by Michelle Moran

Ever wonder about the appeal of Ancient Egypt? I mean, were these guys the Kings of Cool in their day or what? They lived in style. They died in style. Forget Paris Hilton! NEFERTITI http://enduringromance.blogspot.com/2007/05/nefertiti-novel-by-michelle-moran.html was all that and more. But, the HERETIC QUEEN is not about Nefertiti, although she was the original. And you don't have to read NEFERTITI to understand and enjoy THE HERETIC QUEEN. I strongly encourage you to though.
.
Princess Nefertari is the neice of Queen Nefertiti and, as such, is regarded with extreme suspician. It was Queen Nefertiti and Pharoah Akhenatan who banished the true gods of Egypt in favor of worshipping one god, Aten. Plague and other horrible things were visited upon Egypt as a result and, you know, the priests of the old gods weren't exactly happy with losing their money and power. Akhenatan and Nefertiti died. The people hated their memory, fueled by those politicians for whom it was advantageous. The Throne passed through several hands, including the famous Tutenkamen. Nefertiti's sister, Mutny, survived long enough to give birth to Princess Nefertari who was then raised with the other royal children in Pharoah Seti's harem.
.
Nefertari starts the story a 13 year old girl with a giddy crush on Prince Ramses. This would all be your average schoolgirl crush, except for two things. Ramses is about to become Pharoah of Upper Egypt and he's in love with her as well. Naturally, they're a little shy about it, but having grown up together means the crush is something much deeper than you'll find in the average 7th grade classroom.
.
There are those at court who favor Nefertari marrying Ramses and those who are vehemently opposed. Meanwhile, Nefertari is so giddy in love she'll do whatever she's told to achieve marriage with Ramses. And an achievement, it is. While she's mooning and swooning over him, her nanny, Merit, and others know she'll hold power as a wife of Ramses. More than that, they know she'll have a shot at becoming Chief Wife - Queen of Egypt.
.
The Pharoah has a lot of wives, most of whom he never sees and has no interest in. Pharoah Seti is still alive and Ramses is just getting started. Those opposed to Nefertari manipulate him into marrying Iset. Although he doesn't love her, she's gorgeous and, well, he's a horny teenage boy and, besides, Nefertari is too young still. So, he marries her first and those who oppose Nefertari have their pawn.
.
But, Nefertari studies hard in the temple, becoming fluent in many languages. As the neice of the Heretic Queen and a possible second wife, beauty and babymaking are not enough. One of the other things which sets Ancient Egypt apart from the rest of the world of its time is women's rights and power. The wives of pharaoh are not whimpering fools kept around only for frolicking naked in the royal chambers. Some are like that, but they can become advisers and judges. The Chief Wife, the Queen, can rule while Pharoah is at war, or even take over if he dies.
.
Ramses is smart enough to know he needs a smart queen because he's UNselfish enough to realize the sun does not rise and set on his backside, as Akhenaten seemed to think. He loves Nefertari and knows she's the one. Still, he also knows the people oppose the marriage because she's the neice of the hated Heretic Queen. Once Pharoah Seti is won over, however, those who oppose cannot stop the marriage.
.
Okay, time to live happily ever after! Right? Wrong. This is not a Romance novel. Like real life, the wedding is only the beginning and 'happily ever after' is earned the hard way. Nefertari does not automatically become queen upon marriage. Ramses must choose his queen from two wives. Those who support Iset becoming Queen of Egypt do so for their own power and glory, and they'll do anything to destroy her competition. As in NEFERTITI, the competing wives are like high school cheerleaders vying for the top spot and the captain of the football team. And well Michelle Moran should know this dynamic. She's a former high school English teacher. Of course, Iset is a snotty little slut. Aren't they always? There are no cliches here though. You'll sense from the start that Iset is a victum who may not even need to have her nose rubbed in the doggy do-do before it's over.
.
Ramses goes to war and a Habiru named Ahmoses shows up asking that his people be set free so they can worship their one God in their own way in Canaan. Sound familiar? If you've ever been to Sunday School or watched the cartoon movie Prince of Egypt, you know what I'm talking about - Moses and the Hebrews leaving Egypt for the Promised Land. Having grown up in Sunday School, I was thrilled to see it all from the Egyptian point of view. While this is Historical *fiction,* Michelle Moran did her homework. There's scant evidence of the Hebrews ever being Egypt, but that doesn't mean they weren't. Ancient Egyptians tended to erase embarressing bits from their history. This is why so little is known about the female pharoah, Hatshepsut, for example. Her successor destroyed as much evidence of her existance as he could.
.
Anyway, with Ahmoses showing up demanding pharoah let his people go, Nefertari has the opportunity to prove herself. The Habiru worship one God, just as the Heretic Queen did. (Or did she?) If Nefertari banishes the Habiru from Egypt, she could claim that she's cleansed the land of heretics once and for all. But, her husband, Pharoah Ramses, isn't fond of the idea. War threatens on all sides, due to the bad governing of the Heretic King who came before. The Habiru are one-sixth of his army. He needs them. He cannot let them go. They're well-paid, unlike in the movies. Yet, they are not free to go or worship God without persecution.
.
Persecution is something Nefertari can relate to.
.
Before you start thinking this is Nefertari's biggest challenge, try to remember one's chief worries are most often within one's own family. This is not the Old Testement.
.
The worldbuilding and details for this novel were awesome. I could love it only for that, but the characters and their relationships are well-developed too. Once again, Michelle appeals to universal human truths to make her story gripping to contemporary readers. She doesn't resort to contemporary attitudes or the movies to color her story.
.
THE HERETIC QUEEN was released in September in hardback and should still be on the shelves. Otherwise, you can order it on-line. http://www.amazon.com/Heretic-Queen-Novel-Michelle-Moran/dp/0307381757/ref=pd_sim_b_9 I got mine free, of course, and autographed. What can I say? It's one of the perks!

3 comments:

Michelle Moran said...

Thank you so much, Kimber, for taking the time out of what I know is an incredibly busy schedule to review THQ! I am so, so glad (and relieved) you liked it, since there's nothing more difficult than writing a sophomore novel. As I learned from this experience!

Kimber An said...

NEFERTITI was a hard act to follow and I think she'll always be my favorite. It seems to me the first book I read by an author always remains my favorite book by that author. Doesn't seem to matter if it's the first book that author has ever written. It only matters that it's the first of their books I've ever read. I wonder why that it is?

Anyway, I loved the Heretic Queen too. It's always fascinating to me how humans back then were very much the same as they are today. Only, they were much better dressers! I never could have carried off the bare-chested look though. I liked nursing my babies too much.

Gwyneth Bolton said...

It sounds awesome! I can't wait to read it. Congrats on another winner, Michelle!

Gwyneth