I am shamefully ignorant of the details of the Egyptian civilization. Sure, I know the names of a handful of Kings and Queens, but if questioned further would know next to nothing about any of their reigns, or even who is related to who. I mean, it’s so confusing. A lot of my confusion has to do with the fact that their names are so similar, and they tended to marry into the family, and because this is really ancient history, even the experts seem divided about how to interpret some of the archaeological artifacts.

So, when I picked up Nefertiti by Michelle Moran, it was with the full knowledge that anything she stated would fly by me. The only knowledge I had about Nefertiti was that she was an Egyptian queen, she was known for her beauty, and my mother has a bust of hers in her house from a trip to Egypt aeons ago.

My mom has a similar bust at home

My mom has a similar bust at home

So, don’t go expecting this book review to analyze the historical minutiae and critique Moran’s accuracy and research skills. You’re not going to get that with this review.

Book Synopsis

When the natural heir to the throne dies in an unexpected “accident”, Prince Amunhotep (later changed his name to Akhenaten) becomes the heir to the throne. He is a very unsatisfactory heir because he doesn’t believe in the existing way of doing things. He wants to bring in a new monotheistic (one God) religion instead of Egypt’s many Gods. He also wants to curb the power and wealth of the priests.

To sidetrack him from this obsession, the Queen arranges his marriage to beautiful Nefertiti hoping that she will be able to influence him in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the plan falls flat, and the rest of the book deals with how Akhenaten and Nefertiti rule defying all existing norms. The story of their reign is viewed through the eyes of the narrator – Mutnotdjmed or Mutny who is Nefertiti’s sister.

My Review

I”ll be honest. This book is not flattering to Akhenaten and Nefertiti at all. They come across as childish, arrogant, and vain. And I’m not quite sure how accurate that portrayal is. He also seems to have been a weak leader who was dominated by his wife.

I am not convinced however. A man who believed in his convictions so much as to change the official religion, stamp all over the power of the priests, does not really reconcile with the portrayal of a man dominated by his wife. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence on the web about his personality and motivations. A lot of what I read on the web made me think Akhenaten might just have been more advanced than his times. Considering that merely a 100 years later, Moses was successfully able to preach a monotheistic religion and lead the exodus of the Jews out of Egypt makes me wonder if he could have been influenced by Akhenaten’s beliefs.

Nefertiti’s portrayal in the book may be unfair, but it is fun to read about – most of the time she is like a spoilt teenager bossing around her younger sister. It’s always fun to read about drama queens, don’t you think?

It’s the narrator Mutny – Nefertiti’s younger sister who is the bore. She comes across as a very good and wise person, but the sections of the book devoted to her life with her husband were really mundane in the extreme. Thankfully, it seems that Moran understood this, and soon brought her back into the heart of the action.

Another aspect I disliked about the book is that it starts a little slow. Time is spent on building the characters, set up, and so on. I liked that detailing. However, the end just seems a bit too rushed. A lot of the politics of the time is rushed through and simplified, and because of all the rush, in the end, I had no strong feelings when Nefertiti dies.

Still, this was a great book to read. It was fairly easy to understand, and I would highly recommend it if you are not too critical about the leaps that Moran takes into the minds of the characters, and the rather flat characterizations. It’s also a great and accessible starting point into early Egyptian history, and I now look forward to reading Moran’s other books on Egyptian history.

I did some googling after reading this book, and I came across this book list on goodreads. I never knew there were so many books on Nefertiti and Akhenaten.

Have you read Nefertiti? What did you think of the book? Do you have any other books on Egyptian history you’d like to recommend?

You can also buy a copy of this book from Amazon.

8 Responses
  • James Viscosi
    April 23, 2017

    I’ve read several novels set in ancient Egypt lately but not this one. My favorite is one I read a long time ago, actually, called “River God”, by Wilbur Smith, which takes place during the Hyksos invasion of Egypt. It has a sequel, which I understand isn’t particularly good …

    • Nishita
      April 24, 2017

      @jamesviscosi:disqus Thanks for the recco 🙂

  • Karen
    April 21, 2017

    Like you Nish I am rather deficient in my knowledge of the history of Egypt – isn’t that sad when you consider how innovative and powerful they were. I did read a little about Cleopatra some years ago and hadn’t realised just how much status she had. I thought she was just some beauty that ensnared men….

    Karen – BookerTalk

    • Nishita
      April 21, 2017

      @disqus_gmoXW9BOB2:disqus same here. Until I read this book I didn’t realize that Nefertiti was so powerful. It’s not completely substantiated but many historians believe that towards the later part of Akhenaten’s reign, she was also called a Pharaoh and was an equal ruler.

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks
    April 20, 2017

    I can’t say that I have read any books really about ancient Egypt. I tend to enjoying watching documentary TV shows about Egypt or reading National Geographic articles 🙂

    • Nishita
      April 20, 2017

      @Stefanie@soManyBooks: that’s the same case with me 🙂

  • Jenny @ Reading the End
    April 20, 2017

    Okay, I haven’t actually read this yet BUT I am fond enough of the author that I still feel sanguine making the recommendation: Barbara Mertz has two books about ancient Egypt, one called Red Land Black Land and one called Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs. They were written in the 1960s and updated in the aughts, and I think if nothing else they’ll provide an entertaining nonfiction overview of ancient Egpytian history and culture.

    • Nishita
      April 20, 2017

      @readingtheend:disqus Thanks for the recco. Will look out for her books here. Ancient Egyptian history is so fascinating, but it’s also frustrating when you don’t have the knowledge to distinguish fact from fiction in a historical fiction novel such as Nefertiti.

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