Nefertari is a forgotten princess at the court of Pharaoh Seti at Thebes in 1283 BC. She lost everything in a palace fire as a child including her family, the Eighteen Dynasty of Pharaonic Egypt, and has no fortune left. What makes her existence even more difficult is the fact that her past haunts her – she is the niece of Nefertiti – the heretic queen.
Thus begins the story of Nefetari, one of the most powerful queens we know from Ancient Egypt. The Heretic Queen feels like a misplaced title because there is nothing heretic about Nefertari herself even though she lives under the shadow of her aunt whom she has never known. Nefertari’s royal pedigree is her saving grace as is her friendship with Ramesses, who she has grown up with. She excels at languages and has a strong moral code. She had been an ordinary princess until it’s time for Ramesses to choose a wife.
Nefertari shows no political ambitions at this point. When Iset is chosen by Ramesses for marriage, it seems like a wise decision, for Iset is beautiful though lacking in other talents. Nefertari knows she will miss Ramesses, her childhood friend who has taken the crown and will rule Egypt with his father and is soon to marry Iset. That should have been the end of Nefertari’s story except Woserit walks in to change her life.
Woserit and Henuttawy are Ramesses’s aunts and are rivals. They both have reasons to play their pawn against each other in the “game of thrones” and while Iset is Henuttawy’s choice, Nefertari is Woserit’s. As the months pass by Woserit trains Nefertari at the Temple of Hathor. She emerges from her cocoon as a beautiful, intelligent woman and catches Ramesses’s eye. Their love affair begins and Nefartiari soon becomes his wife. Ramesses loves her far above Iset and includes her in his most important decisions at court. But will she become the Chief Wife, an equal partner to the Pharaoh Ramesses and Queen of Egypt?
Rife with royal politics, lust for power and true love, this book is an entertaining historical fiction and a decent read for anyone just getting themselves introduced to Ancient Egypt. As the rivalries between Nefertari and Iset play out, so do the conflicts between Woserit and Henuttawy. The motivations of some of the characters arise from love while for others they arise from greed. However, the way the plot plays itself out, this novel could have been written for any other royal family at any other time in history and it wouldn’t have had too many differences barring a few intricacies. That is the drawback inherent in the characters.
The main characters feel more like petulant teenagers and less like royal princes and princesses. The greatness of Ramesses II, or the vividness of Nefertari, who was a gifted queen, doesn’t really come through. Ramesses also seems oblivious to the intrigues around him and even nonchalant when Nefertari worries that the people of Egypt won’t accept her because of her heretic blood. This is a flaw in the character of Nefertari, a forgotten princess, must fight against her past, earn the love of Egypt’s people and win a place for herself by the man she loves, Pharaoh Ramesses, who we know from history, would later emerge as one of the most powerful Pharaohs of Egypt who ruled for 70 years. Other characters seem one-sided in their portrayal – people are either only good or only evil.
What does come through though is a woman’s struggle against her past and her endurance of the present circumstances to win herself slowly, but steadily, the love of her countrymen. What would certainly have made this page-turner even more thrilling is if the complexities and the ambitions of both the Pharaoh Nefertari, a forgotten princess, must fight against her past, earn the love of Egypt’s people and win a place for herself by the man she loves, Pharaoh Ramesses II and his Queen Nefartari had been given more space to spell themselves out and to show us how, as a powerful couple who had immense love and respect for each other, they created an Egypt of epic proportions that history remembers them for.