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The Heretic Queen    by Michelle Moran order for
Heretic Queen
by Michelle Moran
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is a sequel to Michelle Moran's Nefertiti, in which Moran interpreted the life of the legendary beauty Nefertiti through the eyes of her younger sister, cat-eyed Mutnodjmet. Now, in The Heretic Queen, she gives us a story with a happier historical outcome, that of Mutnodjmet's daughter Nefertari.

An Author's Note at the beginning sets the scene, telling of the rise and fall of Nefertiti and Akhenaten, and the subsequent rule by members of Nefertiti's family until the death of her sister Mutnodjmet in childbirth. The Eighteenth Dynasty's royal family (all but Nefertiti's niece Nefertari) died in a mysterious palace fire and the Nineteenth Dynasty began with general Ramesses I. This novel opens in 1283 BC, during the rule of his son Seti I.

Though her family are considered heretics and their long time in power unmentioned (almost erased from the historical record), the orphaned Nefertari has been raised as one of the royal family, running wild with Seti's son, prince Ramesses, and Asha as her close friends, almost siblings. Now Ramesses is seventeen and must take up his role as co-ruler of Egypt with his father, while Asha is to train as an army general. Intelligent, educated, and a talented linguist, Nefertari wonder what her own role will be.

Seti has two younger sisters, beautiful Henuttawy and kind Woserit. Henuttawy has worked hard to arrange prince Ramesses' marriage to the lovely Iset, whom she keeps closely under her thumb, and (wary of Nefertari's closeness to her nephew) constantly reminds the court of Nefertari's heretic background. The young princess despairs when Ramesses (whom she has always loved) weds Iset, but then Woserit takes her under her wing and trains her at the Temple of Hathor.

When Ramesses marries Nefertari as well as Iset, the race is on to determine which of them will be Chief Wife and co-ruler of Egypt. Nefertari must overcome her heretic taint and forge her own role in Ramesses' life, despite Henuttawy's opposition. She does so by giving him children and accompanying him to battle as his Warrior Queen. As a subtext to Nefertari's story, Moran gives a key role to Ahmoses of Chaldea, who seeks the release of his Habiru people from their forced servitude in Pharaoh's armies.

The Heretic Queen, a sweet coming of age/love story in the context of Egyptian daily life and dynastic politics, is a delightful read, not to be missed.

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