There’s an Instagram account that I really like called Reading Ancient Egypt. The person behind the account, Courtney, put together a readalong for The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney. If you’re unfamiliar, a readalong is where a group of people read the same book and discuss it in a group chat. They’re a lot of fun and I love ancient Egypt so I decided to join. I find Hatshepsut to be extremely interesting but unfortunately, I can’t say the same for this book. This is a nonfiction book so there will obviously be spoilers in the review.
An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power in a man’s world.
Hatshepsut, the daughter of a general who took Egypt’s throne without status as a king’s son and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty, was born into a privileged position of the royal household. Married to her brother, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her inconceivable rule as a cross-dressing king. At just twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular twenty-two year reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays with the veil of piety and sexual expression. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut had to shrewdly operate the levers of a patriarchal system to emerge as Egypt’s second female pharaoh.
Hatshepsut had successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her images were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.
- Rating: ⭐⭐
As I was preparing to write this review, I decided to read some other reviews on Goodreads. In one of them, the person said that this book was like “champagne in a paper cup.” A harsh but true statement. It’s obvious that Cooney has a deep love and knowledge of ancient Egypt but that leads to her making far too many educated guesses about the subject, in my opinion. If I’m reading nonfiction, I want the facts. Sure, make it entertaining but I don’t want a book filled with what you think might’ve or could’ve happened. If you cut this book down to the bare facts about Hatshepsut, it would be half as long.
Cooney created an odd blend of nonfiction and fiction in this story. She gives the facts but the she fills in the gaps of what has been forgotten by time. This doesn’t sound like a bad thing but she does it FAR too often and it gets very repetitive. This book was repetitive in general. I honestly don’t know how many times Cooney mentioned that Hatshepsut had to sexually pleasure the statue of Amen (Amun) as part of her role as God’s Wife. I did not know this little fact but after being reminded of it so many times, it seemed like Cooney just really wanted to drive home the point of how salacious it was. It was annoying and that’s how I felt at many different points.
Her writing, objectively, wasn’t bad but this book just seemed to drag on and on. However, I did learn quite a bit that I didn’t know about Hatshepsut, Thutmose III and everyone that surrounded them in this time period. I don’t regret reading The Woman Who Would Be King and I wish I could rate it higher but Cooney’s writing style simply isn’t for me.
Even though Cooney’s writing style isn’t my thing, I DO think others would enjoy it. If you love ancient Egypt and want to know more about Hatshepsut, this book might be worth reading. What is your favorite nonfiction Egyptian book? Thanks for reading and have a great day!