Tuesday, December 1, 2009

King And Goddess - Judith Tarr

Now that NaNoWriMo is over with, I can go back to posting reviews of books (not to mention actually reading them). I did reach the goal of fifty thousand words in thirty days however.

King And Goddess
Judith Tarr
Tor Books
978-0812550849
Copyright Date: 1996

The Amazon.com blurb (Publisher's Weekly):
Egypt's "most notorious" female king, Maatkare Hatshepsut, is the captivating subject of Tarr's latest novel of ancient Egypt. The story opens as Senenmut, a homely, arrogant young scribe, arrives at the royal palace in Thebes as a gift to the "girlchild" Queen Hatshepsut?the Great Royal Wife of King Thutmose II, who is her half-brother. Hatshepsut and the war-hungry king are living gods. The royal marriage has yet to be consummated, however, because the queen considers the king "a sweaty, panting lout without the least grain of delicacy." Recognizing her duty to produce an heir, she orders Isis, a beautiful maidservant, to prepare the king for her by teaching him the art of lovemaking. When Hatshepsut at last gives birth to a girl instead of the desired boy, the queen refuses to care for her, appointing Senenmut as her daughter's tutor and guardian. The birth of a stillborn son leaves the queen infertile. Her hatred toward the king crystallizes after Isis, now his calculating concubine, gives birth to an heir, Thutmose III. When the king suddenly dies, further intrigue unfolds, leading to Hatshepsut, now queen regent, seizing her chance to gain the throne. Tarr evokes Hatshepsut's ruthlessness as well as her vulnerability, and provides vivid portraits of Senenmut, Thutmose III and other real historical figures. Hatshepsut's courtship of the Egyptians, her peaceful reign and Thutmose III's ultimate revenge against her add up to a dramatic tale.

King And Goddess is the story of Hatshepsut, the striking female Pharaoh that has captured our imaginations, is told from the point of view of Senenmut, her one-time tutor and also through the eyes of Neshi, the man who became her guardsman and much more.

This is one of Judith Tarr's historical fiction novels, but one where there is no magic. So far in my experience there are two varieties of historical fiction she writes: This one, which is in the same vein as The Eagle's Daughter: closely based on historical fact, and then there's the type where the author mixes fact and fantasy, as in Rite of Conquest.

Yes, this is an older story, but the events of the novel still capture the imagination, and don't seem to be contradicted by any current archaeological evidence I'm aware of. It's interesting the way the building of the monuments is described: the obelisks and her mortuary temple especially. Both are famous and feature in several major art history textbooks.

Judith Tarr has a talent for capturing strong-willed characters in her writing, of which there are many in this story. Hatshepsut herself is one, as were several of the others.

In some ways the story in King and Goddess reminds me of the novels I read earlier this summer by Michelle Moran, but that's likely to be because they were the ones that set me on my current Egypt kick. I will say though that if you liked Nefertiti or The Heretic Queen, you'll probably like King and Goddess as well. I know Judith Tarr has written other books set in ancient Egypt, but I haven't gotten around to reading them yet.

At the end of the book is a historical note where the author noted any historical liberties she took with the story she chose to write. It turns out that for this book there were fewer than I'd thought there might be. For example both Senenmut and Neshi were apparently real figures with historical evidence backing them up.

I'll admit it, I've been reading quite a few books set in ancient Egypt this year. This has been another fine book, and I'm sure I'll find even more I like.
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