Great battles have been won in the Nile Delta. Reunited with his wife Hatusu, and his people, Pharoah Tuthmosis II stands before the statue of Amun-Ra, the roar of the crowd and the fanfare of trumpets ringing in his ears. But within an hour he is dead. Rumours run rife, speculation sweeps the royal city and Hatusu vows to uncover the truth. With the aid of Amerotke, a respected judge of Thebes, she embarks on a path destined to reveal the great secrets of Egypt.
🐯🐯🐯🐯💀/★★★★☆ During the reign of =Hatshepsut, plucky judge Amerotke must race against time to crack a fiendish plot and save the court…and possibly all of Egypt. Even a shittily formatted cover isn’t going to put me off an ancient murder mystery starring a Pharaoh Queen.
Hatshepsut, Queen of the Badasses
I really enjoyed all the characters in this book. Amerotke is a sympathetic hero, a hard working family man with a strong sense of ethics and justice. He doesn’t really believe that a dark curse is behind the shenanigans but can’t help be a little rattled by it all anyway. He has a strong sidekick in his loyal manservant Shufoy, who is the source of most of the humour in the novel.
The other main character is Hatusu, another name for Hatshepsut. She’s somewhat morally ambiguous, and she’s HECKING AWESOME. I don’t understand why Doherty didn’t just call her Hatshepsut, but whatever. After the sudden murder of her husband/brother (the pharaohs love incest guys…let’s not even go there), every man and his dog is trying to topple Hatshepsut from the throne. She’s scared, but she’s also ruthless, and determined to do whatever it takes to solidify her power. That includes promoting her boyfriend to high rank, murdering the right people, leading her army into the thick of battle on her chariot… and at the end of the book, anointing herself as an actual God. Oh, heck yes.
Hatusu clashes with upstanding Amerotke. He’s not sure whether to trust her, and he doesn’t always approve of her methods. She would rather he just indicted her nemesis for murder to get things over with, and swore his eternal loyalty to her. I really enjoyed their back and forth, as Amerotke battles to remain independent and ethical whilst solving the murder, and not be dragged into Hatusu’s schemes. They develop a healthy respect for each other, and I would be fascinated to read on about them in future books.
Magic is FAKE NEWS…or is it?
The Pharaoh’s murder quickly spirals into a full blown court conspiracy, including viper bites, mysterious curses, and assassins in the night. There’s even a hyena attack, and the book ends with a violent battle and a dramatic escape from the depths of a pyramid. It’s a classic, cheerfully bloody mystery, with the only difference being it’s set 4000 years in the past. There’s twists and turns, but with a effort you can have a solid guess who’s behind it all.
The intrigue for me comes mostly from the sense of supernatural horror that’s purposefully being created by the conspirators. Religion and magic are taken deadly seriously by the ancient Egyptian characters, and the book takes their sense of unease seriously in turn. Amerotke tries to keep his head, and turns to Ma’at, the goddess of truth, to guide him, but things get increasingly murky. Although as the reader you’re sure Amerotke will eventually find logical, mundane explanations for why a flock of doves died whilst flying over Pharaoh’s ceremony and wax curse dolls keep turning up everywhere…part of you completely understands how they can think that perhaps the gods are out to get them. This grounding in the supernatural world view of the time really made this book feel alive to me. As it turns out, a deep religious secret is at the very heart of the conspiracy. Mu ha ha haaa!
11/10 Historical Content
The ancient Egyptians were freaking awesome, and I am LIVING for the accurate setting in this book. The moment the story begins, I felt sucked right in to ancient Egypt. The descriptions of life in the city of Thebes are vivid and gorgeous, and Doherty spends time detailing cultural tidbits like temple rituals and frescos, weaving them smoothly in the narrative. This was catnip to an archaeology nerd like me. If you are all about the action you might find this less thrilling, but if you appreciate a solid historical touch it’s fantastic.
Amerotke, Hatusu and the other characters actually feel like they’ve come from another place and time. They are warm and human, but also unfamiliar. They see the world through strange eyes, and use turns of phrase and proverbs that only make sense in a cultural context. I’ve seen one review which said this all created a weird sense of distance for them meaning they couldn’t get attached to the characters, but I actually appreciated it. Sometimes I get tired with historical novels where the characters feel like modern day humans parading about a movie set. Basically, Doherty has clearly spent a long time in a library working to make this book feel as authentic as possible. Holla!
Reader please be warned. There’s a scene at the end where Doherty casually mentions how defeated soldiers are getting raped on the battle field. No-one bats an eyelid, because the Egyptians were terrible people and this is all part of their normal proceedings. But still…gross.
The only thing that did make my eyes roll a little is the highly repetitive descriptions of nubile young women with ‘sloe eyes’ and ‘perfumed hair’. Look I get it, straight male authours just can’t help but flag themselves up as HETERO!!!! and also A MAN!!!! on every page they write. It’s fine, we’re all used to it.
The book was really satisfying on all counts. Doherty’s writing style definitely works better for the descriptions than the action scenes, but even though my heart was never pounding, I was interested and absorbed through this book start to finish. I’d highly recommend it for anyone who loves ancient Egypt, or who has a soft spot for historical murder mysteries.
Chat with me!
What other historical murder mysteries do you enjoy? Are there other awesome series set in Ancient Egypt? And who would win in a fight, Hatshepsut or Nefertiti?