Well-researched and beautifully written, Nefertiti is a compulsively readable first novel from Michele Moran, who gives gives readers a beautiful glimpse into the life and customs of ancient Egypt. Tracing the rise and fall of Pharaoh Akhenaten and Nefertiti, the story is told from the point of view of Lady Mutnodjmet (Muty), Nefertiti’s younger sister.
Married to Akhenaten, the unstable and suspicious 17-year old co-regent of Egypt, who is determined to break with tradition by replacing supreme deity Amun with a little known sun god Aten, Neferiti was chosen by Queen Tiye to balance and moderate his heretical views. Desperate to carve her name in history, however, Nefertiti soon throws caution to the wind and supports and encourages all of Akhenaten’s follies.
Knowing he cannot do much until his father, the Elder, is still Pharoah, Akhenaten decides to move to the desert city of Amarna, where he establishes his capital. However, since he is arrogant and unsuitable to rule over Egypt, Nefertiti’s father Vizier Ay becomes the real power behind the throne, working hard to reverse the damage caused by Akhenaten and ensuring he gains the upper hand over Vizier Panahesi, the father of Akehnaten’s first wife, Kiya.
That sets the premise for palace politics, court events and power struggles. The characters are well developed and engaging, and Michelle Moran manages to pull you into their lives from the first page itself.
Richly detailed, the novel brings alive the sights, sounds, colors and texture of life in ancient Egypt.
Her wig came below her shoulders and behind her ears, emphasizing her cheekbones and slender neck. Every strand of her hair played music when the beads came together, and I thought there wasn’t a man in any kingdom that could refuse her. Her entire body glittered with gold, even her toes.
And if you’re like me and wonder how much of the novel is based on truth, these words from the Author’s note at the end of the book should be encouraging:
While the main historical events are accurate, such as Ay’s rise to power, Akhenaten’s obsession with Aten, the dream of Amarna, and Nefertiti’s unparalleled influence at court, liberties were taken with personalities, names and minor historical events. For instance, no one can be certain how Mutnodjmet felt about her sister’s vision of an Egypt without the Amun Priests, but in an image of her found in Amarna she is standing off to one side, her arms down while everyone else is enthusiastically embracing Aten. In a period where art attempted to portray reality for the first time, I found this significant.
All told, this is a beautiful book that will transport you to the life and times of the epitome of beauty – Nefertiti. A must read.
If you like historical fiction, be sure to check out The Raven Spell’s review of The Courtesan by Susan Carroll. It looks like a very interesting read – definitely on my to-read list!