Nefertari has a shadow hanging over her wherever she goes - she is the niece of the hated heretic Nefertiti, the spare princess allowed to live in the palace but mistrusted by almost everybody. If she wants to marry the love of her life, Ramesses, become queen and ensure her family is eternally remembered she must make the people of Egypt embrace her for who she is and forgive her family's past. But will Nefertari's enemies let that happen?
Beginning Moran's second novel I wondered if she would be able to repeat the magic of Nefertiti and give us a different book at the same time. I hoped she would and fortunately she did. Reading the first chapter of this book is like stepping through a gateway between time and place and ending up in ancient Egypt, not a foreigner to whom everything is explained but an observer who doesn't require any special treatment. This is one of the reasons I like Moran's books - there's no explaining. She knows that the readers will make intuitive leaps, they'll understand things from context and there's no need to document every breath.
Nefertati is a very interesting character in that her struggle for a place in the royal dynasty happens when she's not even 17 years old but she is no longer a child. She is intelligent, honest, hard-working, loyal and admirably courageous. She makes difficult decisions and she doesn't complain when things are hard. It would be so easy for her to become bitter and angry when everybody seems to be against her, when her enemies are too strong and dangerous and when the people won't accept her but she retains her kindness and compassion and keeps going, becoming only more determined as she moves towards her goals.
The secondary characters are very interesting as well and I grew fond of Nefertari's friends and teachers. They are kind but don't let things go to her head and they complement her very nicely. One might argue that the characters are too one-dimensional in their being either good or evil but somehow they never feel that way. There's always humanity in Iset, Rahotep and even Henuttawi while Merit, Paser and Woserit have their own demons to fight. You just know that things aren't all that simple.
I really enjoyed watching the relationship between Nefertari and Ramesses unfold. They started out as friends, then fell in love and married and theirs was a true partnership of two like minds working to achieve the same goals. Things weren't easy for them but they were in it together and reading about them was so pleasant, especially when outside of their chambers the court was so full of intrigue and deceit. The court intrigues are really the only thing that soured the experience for me (I don't like the politics that come with life at the very top) but without it all the story wouldn't have been realistic so I suppose we couldn't have done without them.
One of my favorite messages in this book is that intelligence is more valuable than the most dazzling good looks. As Nefertari said "Her beauty might fascinate men, but it was difficult to charm them when she stood mute..." I think that in today's culture that's all about beauty and youth we often forget that a pretty face isn't everything.
If you like a well-written historical novel that's told in a clear, simple and warm voice and is never dull I think you'll enjoy this book.