I was just swept up by Stephanie Thornton's first novel, The Secret History, about Empress Theodora and as a result, was waiting impatiently for this book and her third novel (about the women in Genghis Khan's life!). Thornton has that wonderful knack for finding nearly forgotten women from history and giving their credulity-straining lives notice, dignity, and vibrancy.
In this book, she turns her attention to Hatshepsut, an Egyptian royal who ascended to Pharaoh, only to be almost completely erased from history after her reign. A prophecy warned her that while she would bring glory to Egypt, it would come at the cost of everyone she loved -- a warning Hatshepsut was determined to circumvent. She wanted glory, but she wanted love, too.
When it comes to drama and big emotions, Thornton doesn't hold back. By page 10 -- the end of the first chapter -- I was wiping away tears. The reign of peace that Hatshepsut brought really came at dramatic cost for her, and I was hanging on every page. Love, betrayal, friendship, motherhood, war, and artistic endeavors: this book has it all!
Her Hatshepsut is strong-willed, occasionally stubborn, clever and ambitious -- believable traits in a woman who would crown herself Pharaoh. While many of her personality quirks and preferences are wholly invented by Thornton, they rang true for me, and felt authentic to her heroine and the era she was from -- something I always appreciate in a historical novel!
As with her previous novel, Thornton makes the scandalous grounded and what could be tawdry or licentious touched with humane warmth. Haptshepsut is married to her half-brother and is to sire his children, and Thornton handles that element in a way that recognizes history without totally alienating modern readers.
The historical details were well integrated in the narrative; through context, the reader is able to understand some of the more alien aspects of life in Egypt in 1400ish BC, and there's no over-explaining or info-dumping to slow things down.
Readers who love splashy historical novels with royal intrigue will want this one; Thornton joins the host of authors who shine a light on dynasties and families that give the Tudors and Borgias a run for their money. Those who are obsessed with Egypt will also want this one, as well as fans of Stephanie Dray, Kate Quinn, and Michelle Moran. Another highly recommended read -- perfect for the beach!