Amunhotep III is the Pharoah of Egypt. His eldest and most beloved son Tuthmosis is set to be his heir. Uizier Ay is the brother of Amunhotep’s wife and Tuthmosis’ mother, Queen Tiye. They plan on marrying Tuthmosis to Ay’s eldest daughter Nefertiti. Their plans are disrupted, however, when Tuthmosis dies duuring an illness. Many believe that he was murdered by his brother, Amunhotep IV, a selfish prince who believes that the priests of Amun, the great god of Egypt, are doing no more than hoarding the wealth of Egypt for a false god. It is decided that Nefertiti should now marry the younger Amunhotep in hopes of reigning him in. Nefertiti does just the opposite when she learns that she has to feed into his vanity and give herself fully to Amunhotep’s sun god Aten in order to keep her position in his harem. All of this is witnessed and recorded by Nefertiti’s sensible and loyal younger sister, Mutnodjmet. Mutny loves her sister, but grows uneasy with the way in which her sister and the Pharoah rule Egypt. She lives with them in the new city they erect for the glory of Aten, Amarna. Her disapproval grows and Mutny is forced to choose between her sister and her own destiny.
Nefertiti opened my eyes to an intriguing and exciting world that I really haven’t given much thought. Before October, my only cultural exposure to Ancient Egypt was The Ten Commandments, Steve Martin’s song “King Tut“, The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian,” and the bust of Nefertiti I saw at the Altes Museum in Berlin back in 1997. It wasn’t that I didn’t find Egypt interesting. There were just other louder and more immediate influences pointing me toward England, France, and Civil War. Nefertiti has changed that. From the moment I picked the novel up and found mention of Nefertiti’s bust in the Author’s Note, I could not put it down. There was an immediate connection for me. Our book club loved this so much that we’ve selected the sequel, The Heretic Queen, as our book club selection for November. I – we – cannot wait to read more fiction set in Ancient Egypt. I want to know what happens after Nefertiti’s death. I want to know more about the Egyptian gods and why Amunhotep might have felt the need to create his own.
Michelle Moran not only brought Nefertiti and Mutny to life, she painted their story like a picture. I can fully visualize the city that Amunhotep and Nefertiti built. I can see and feel the stone used to create the temples to Aten and the statues of the Pharoah and his Queen. Most importantly, I felt as though I knew the characters. Mutny instantly became a friend to me and I cared deeply about her throughout the book. Nefertiti was adored and worshipped, but it was Mutny whose character shown through in everything that she did. She was the one who wanted to help people, not just throw money into the streets to buy support for her husband. She was intelligent and practical. People came to her for her herbal remedies. Perhaps she could have kept the Pharoah in check where her sister couldn’t, but I think she would have been miserable.
As I read Nefertiti, I kept thinking back to The Other Boleyn Girl. There are so many parallels between the stories. Both sets of sisters are propelled into royal politics for family gain. Nefertiti and Anne Boleyn were both instrumental in changing the religious landscape of their day. In securing their place, both queens ended up creating monsters they could not control, and neither queen bore an heir. In these fictional settings, the sisters must risk their lives to find happiness and are left to pick up the pieces. The Other Boleyn Girl sparked my love affair with historical fiction. Had I read Nefertiti first, I believe it would have done the same. It’s just that good. Despite the difficulty I had getting used to reading and sounding out the names of some of the characters, they quickly found a place and my imagination and, in the case of Mutny, a place in my heart.
Nefertiti was the last book read during the Historical Fiction Lover’s Book Club Queens of Summer series on Facebook.
To buy this novel, click Nefertiti.
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- Ancient Egypt and Us (allaboutegypt.org)