“But if I’m not to be a priestess,” I asked him, “where will my place be in Thebes?” I held my breath, waiting for the right answer to come, willing it into his heart. Then he took me in his arms and brushed his lips against mine. “With me,” he said firmly. “As my queen.” -from The Heretic Queen, page 126-
Nefartari grows up within in the royal court, a favorite to Pharoah Seti and playmate to his son Ramesses. Her family history has tainted her – her mother, Queen Mutnodjmet, was sister to the Heretic Queen Nefertiti – so it is not a surprise when Ramesses chooses to first marry Iset, a beautiful young woman who carries no controversy in her past and has been befriended by the High Priestess of Isis (who is also the daughter of Pharaoh Seti). It is not long, however, before a plot is hatched by Seti’s other daughter, Woserit, to make Nefertari into the next Queen of Egypt.
The Heretic Queen is Michelle Moran’s sequel to her best-selling novel Nefertiti. In this second book, the reader comes to know Nefertari (who narrates the story) and Ramesses The Great (one of the most well-known ancient Egyptian kings). As Moran points out in her historical notes at the back of the book, The Heretic Queen is ‘first and foremost, a work of fiction.‘ But it is also rich with the history and atmosphere of ancient Egypt. Set amid the towering temples of the Nineteenth Dynasty, the novel is filled with political scheming, the horror of war, the extravagance of royalty, and breathtaking romance.
Moran writes in her historical notes:
What is known for certain about Nefertari, however, is that she and Ramesses were a love match. Buildings and poetry remain today as testaments to this, and in one of Ramesses’s more famous poems he calls Nefertari “the one for whom the sun shines.” His poetry to her can be found from Luxor to Abu Simbel. -page 373-
On a wall of her burial chamber, Ramesses summed up his love for her as such: “My love is unique and none can rival her … Just by passing, she has stolen away my heart. -page 374-
Moran captures this love beautifully and it is the romance between these two characters that drives the novel. The tension between Nefertari and her rival Isis never wavers, and although the reader knows the final outcome from the beginning it is this conflict that kept me compulsively turning the pages.
The Heretic Queen is captivating, full of suspense and intrigue, and a must read for historical fiction lovers.