The Forgotten: Heir of the Heretic

Written by J. Lynn Else
Review by Bethany Latham

In this prequel to The Forgotten: Aten’s Last Queen, Else focuses on Merytaten, daughter of the Heretic Pharaoh. Merytaten narrates a tale of the Amarna period – when Egypt devolved from a prosperous, powerful country into chaos and instability – in flashback form after a violent death at the hands of her villainous husband, Smenkhkare. All the familiar players are here: Akhenaten, Nefertiti, their daughters, as well as Tiye, Ay, Tutankhaten, etc.

Ancient Egypt’s 18th Dynasty (circa 1550-1292 BC) is fascinating, replete with raw material for engaging historical fiction that authors have fruitfully mined (Michelle Moran, Allen Drury, Stephanie Thornton, et al.), but it is less successfully capitalized on here. Grammar errors and unfortunate prose (e.g., “Sparked from the tinder of his hatred, cruel finality was reflected back to me from his rings of brown”) hamper the novel. Inconsistent spelling of character names (e.g., Thutmose/Djhutmose) may cause confusion for those unfamiliar with the period’s personalities, and the capital city is referred to as “Akhenaten” (the same as the pharaoh’s name) rather than its correct appellation, Akhet-aten (“Horizon of the Aten”). While doubtless children were forced to grow up quickly in the ancient world, Merytaten seems improbably precocious, especially during the parts of her narrative occurring before the age of nine; aspects of the plotting suffer from other plausibility issues.

In light of the #MeToo movement, readers may find the storyline of The Forgotten: Heir of the Heretic to be timely. There is a focus on empowering women who have suffered at the hands of men in authority, with a sword-wielding Nefertiti, a scenario involving a secret bloodline traced to a powerful “foremother,” and Merytaten groomed from childhood to be a pharaoh in her own right.