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Sphinx's Princess    by Esther Friesner order for
Sphinx's Princess
by Esther Friesner
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Esther Friesner is the author of numerous hilarious urban fantasy novels (like Chicks in Chainmail and Witch Way to the Mall) along with two excellent YA novels about the girlhood of legendary Helen of Sparta - Nobody's Princess and Nobody's Prize. Now, in Sphinx's Princess, she offers readers a coming of age tale for another woman of legend, the mysterious Nefertiti, whose iconic bust has aroused the same degree of curiosity and interest as the Mona Lisa.

Friesner portrays a spirited and intelligent young woman who simply wants to control her own destiny and spend her life with someone she loves and respects. Along the way, she tosses out seeds for real historical happenings of the period, after Nefertiti became Pharaoh Akhenaten's Great Royal Wife and they founded a new religion, worship of the god Aten, as well as a new capital in Akhetaten (now Amarna).

We first meet Nefertiti as a small child plagued by nightmares of being chased and surrounded by lions whose faces transform into those of men. Nefertiti, whose mother died soon after giving birth to her, is the beloved daughter of Ay, brother of the powerful - and power hungry - Great Royal Wife Tiye. Nefertiti's guardian and lifelong protector is the Great Sphinx. Ay marries his daughter's nursemaid Mery, who gives Nefertiti a new sister, Mutnedjmet.

An old friend of Ay's, a scribe and dwarf named Henenu, secretly teaches Nefertiti to read and write and becomes her lifelong friend. He warns her that 'the truth holds the greatest magic, the greatest beauty, and sometimes the greatest danger'. After dancing at the Festival of the Inundation and nearly drowning, Nefertiti becomes aware of the evils of slavery and of the misuse of power by high priests. She is given a young mute slave, a harpist she names Berett.

Then Tiye makes plans for Nefertiti that change her life's direction. The Queen has chosen her niece to be her elder son Thutmose's wife and summons her to court. With difficulty, Ay negotiates three years for his daughter to prepare for her new role. But though Thutmose is very handsome, he is also arrogant, suspicious, and uninterested in spending time with his bride to be. Instead Nefertiti befriends his depised younger brother Amenophis, who teaches her to drive a chariot.

Matters continue in this fashion until Pharaoh becomes ill. He and Tiye withdraw to Dendera, leaving Thutmose to rule in their absence. When a charge is laid against Nefertiti and her life endangered, her friends rally to save her. Sphinx's Princess is an exciting story, with an engaging young heroine. It will leave readers anxious to learn more of the historical Nefertiti, starting with the author's Afterword which exhorts us to 'remember that she was much more than just another pretty face.'

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