Class warfare and women’s liberation come to ancient Egypt in Stovall’s (Cassandra’s Curse, 2010) new historical fiction.
In ancient Egypt, the ruling religious and political forces rely on the separation of classes as the bulwark of their power. It’s heresy, for instance, to teach commoners that they may have any lot in life other than to serve the pharaoh. Senen-Mut is a commoner—a wealthy, promising young man, but a commoner nonetheless. Yet he catches the eye of the local leader and is chosen to study at the Royal School. There, he and young Princess Hat-Shep-Sut fall in love and begin a complex relationship that ties them together for the rest of their lives. Hat-Shep-Sut ascends to the pharaoh’s throne, vexing the conservative leaders, and Senen-Mut rises on to an illustrious military career. Meanwhile, Egypt is in a state of war, constantly defending and redefining its borders. Stovall draws deeply on historical sources to tell his story, set more than 3,000 years ago during Egypt’s 18th dynasty. (Hat-Shep-Sut and Senen-Mut are real historical figures, and historians have speculated on their romantic relationship). Unfortunately, storytelling itself often plays second fiddle to historical detail, turning what must have been very exciting lives into a rather tedious read. Characters sometimes act with very little motivation beyond historical necessity, and they fade in and out of the story, making it easy to forget the main story arc. Senen-Mut and Hat-Shep-Sut even disappear from the narrative for long stretches. This long, rangy book covers decades of action, but it’s oddly paced, often covering far too much ground in short, choppy paragraphs. Beyond the structure, there’s a desperate need for copy editing, with persistent punctuation, grammatical and spelling errors, as well as the odd but consistent italicization of certain proper names. A disciplined editor could help bring this epic story to life.
A big, baggy book that will appeal to only the most passionate ancient Egypt buffs.