Nefertiti: A Novel

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Nefertiti is chosen to marry Amunhotep IV, heir to the throne ofEgypt, and her future of power and wealth seems assured. Her half-sister, Mutnodjmet, has no desire for power; she wants only love and the peace of her herb garden. But Nefertiti’s husband makes an unstable Pharaoh—changing his name, moving the capital, tearing down the traditional gods, and pushingEgypttowards disaster. Mutnodjmet is drawn into the web of intrigue at the shallow but glittering Amarna court as she attempts to balance her desires with the demands of her powerful sister.

Moran’s take on the court at Akhetaten and the two sisters at its center is strongly reminiscent of recent Tudor offerings focusing on the Boleyn sisters. Selfish and unscrupulous Nefertiti does whatever it takes to keep her husband enthralled and power within her grasp, while Mutnodjmet endlessly sacrifices to further a cause she doesn’t believe in and help a sister who is domineering and often unkind. Mutnodjmet narrates the tale, and though she is well-drawn, her forgiveness and subordination frequently beggar belief. Nefertiti is not as well developed a character, and unstable despot Akhenaten is a two-dimensional caricature of the browbeaten husband in thrall to his beautiful wife, a fanatic who vents through whining, suspicion, and cruelty.

There are enormous gaps in the historical record from this time period, but Moran also takes liberties with events and timelines generally accepted by scholars. The details Moran has provided of daily life during the 18th dynasty are appealing, however, and add depth to the story. The plotting has promise, but eventually becomes repetitive and predictable. The end of the novel devolves into melodrama with an abrupt conclusion for the story of The Heretic and The Beautiful One; Mutnodjmet’s destiny, while completely different from her historical one, is resolved more tidily.

Bethany Latham

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