After reviewing Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran last week, I decided I wanted to reread and review my favorite book by her, Nefertiti. I mentioned in my review of Cleopatra’s Daughter that now that I’m older and have learned to read books more critically, I didn’t enjoy the story as much. The same is slightly true for this book but I’ll get more into that below after the synopsis. This review will have slight spoilers.
Nefertiti and her younger sister, Mutnodjmet, have been raised in a powerful family that has provided wives to the rulers of Egypt for centuries. Ambitious, charismatic, and beautiful, Nefertiti is destined to marry Amunhotep, an unstable young pharaoh. It is hoped by all that her strong personality will temper the young Amunhotep’s heretical desire to forsake Egypt’s ancient gods, overthrow the priests of Amun, and introduce a new sun god for all to worship.
From the moment of her arrival in Thebes, Nefertiti is beloved by the people. Her charisma is matched only by her husband’s perceived generosity: Amunhotep showers his subjects with lofty promises. The love of the commoners will not be enough, however, if the royal couple is not able to conceive an heir, and as Nefertiti turns her attention to producing a son, she fails to see that the powerful priests, along with the military, are plotting against her husband’s rule. The only person wise enough to recognize the shift in political winds–and brave enough to tell the queen–is her younger sister, Mutnodjmet.
Observant and contemplative, Mutnodjmet has never shared her sister’s desire for power. She yearns for a quiet existence away from family duty and the intrigues of court. Her greatest hope is to share her life with the general who has won her heart. But as Nefertiti learns of the precariousness of her reign, she declares that her sister must remain at court and marry for political gain, not love. To achieve her independence, Mutnodjmet must defy her sister, the most powerful woman in Egypt, while also remaining loyal to the needs of her family.
Love, betrayal, political unrest, plague, and religious conflict, Nefertiti brings ancient Egypt to life in vivid detail. Fast-paced and historically accurate, it is the dramatic story of two unforgettable women living through a remarkable period in history.
I LOVE ancient Egypt. I mean, the kind of love where I watch documentaries and read non-fiction about the subject for fun. Unfortunately, there just isn’t much historical fiction about ancient Egypt so anytime I see a book that looks promising, I grab it up. I first read Nefertiti years ago and was crazy about it. At that time, I would have found no issues with the story but I do have some now.
Overall, this is still a wonderful book. It’s told from the point of view of Nerfertiti’s younger sister, Mutnodjmet. At the start of the book, Mutny (Mutnodjmet’s nickname in the book) is 12 years old and the story spans the next 16 years. I love books that follow a character’s journey from childhood to adulthood because I feel you really get to know them. However, a complaint that I have with Moran’s writing is a lack of depth in her characters. I feel like this book would have been much more interesting if it was told from Nefertiti’s point of view, or at least multiple points of view. Mutny, for a large portion of the book, is basically a child and not really in the middle of the action. Since she’s really just an observer, we don’t know much about most of the characters. This is primarily true for Nefertiti and Akhenaten (Amunhotep changed his name to Akhenaten a few years into his reign).
What we primarily see from Nefertiti is a girl and then a woman who is vain, cunning, spoiled and selfish. There are moments where Mutny will be told something by Nefertiti or their father, Vizier Ay, that will show a different side to Nefertiti. Primarily, she has to be the way that she is to keep Akhenaten happy and it’s not always what she wants. However, since we’re not in Nefertiti’s head and Mutny has a very limited scope of most situations, it’s hard to know what Nefertiti is truly like and the reasons for why she does what she does.
The same is true for Akhenaten. From Mutny’s point of view, he’s unstable, violent and dumb. We never get to see him in private with Nefertiti or know the reasoning for why he does what he does. His intense love for Aten is never explained and we’re just left with a villainous character. Once again, I would have loved for the story to be told from Nefertiti’s point of view because no one knew Akhenaten like she did.
As for the other characters, there’s not much to say because there wasn’t much info given. I would have loved to have a few parts told from Kiya’s, Akhenaten’s other wife, point of view. She was Nefertiti’s primary rival and because of Nefertiti, Akhenaten basically abandoned her. It seemed like he really loved her before he married Nefertiti and knowing Kiya’s thoughts would have been very interesting.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I do really like Mutnodjmet. Her journey from being a child that just loves her sister into an adult that is forced to serve her makes for a very compelling read. I just wish that we could have gotten more than only what Mutny’s point of view could offer.
As for historical accuracy, Moran does a very good job with the small amount of information that’s available about this time period. You can tell that she did her research and filled in the gaps with educated guesses.
I still love this book but I think I would love it more if it was truly Nefertiti’s story and not Mutnodjmet’s. Mutnodjmet is fine as a narrator but just no where near as interesting as her older sister. Next week I’ll be reviewing the sequel to this book, The Heretic Queen, which picks up with Munodjmet’s daughter. I’d love to know if this book sounds like one you’d be interested in! Thanks for reading and have a great day!