Egypt, 1400s BC. The pharaoh’s pampered second daughter, lively, intelligent Hatshepsut, delights in racing her chariot through the marketplace and testing her archery skills in the Nile’s marshlands. But the death of her elder sister, Neferubity, in a gruesome accident arising from Hatshepsut’s games forces her to confront her guilt…and sets her on a profoundly changed course.
Once, Hatshepsut anticipated being free to live and love as she chose. Now she must put Egypt first. Ever daring, she will lead a vast army and build great temples, but always she will be torn between the demands of leadership and the desires of her heart. And even as she makes her boldest move of all, her enemies will plot her downfall….
Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt is Stephanie Thornton’s second novel and not one I was expecting to read this soon after The Conqueror’s Wife, but who can resist a story set in ancient Egypt? Thornton is making a reputation for herself for exploring the lives of women who have been more or less forgotten about by history, and this time she has turned her attention to an Egyptian woman who deserves as much recognition as her famous counterparts, Cleopatra and Nefertiti, however Hatshepsut’s name was almost erased from history by her descendants.
Daughter of the Gods depicts Hatshepsut’s life from about the age of twelve when her sister’s death means she has to take her sister’s place as her brother’s Great Royal Wife and produce Egypt’s next heir. Hatshepsut is portrayed as an intelligent young woman who is far more suited to the role of pharaoh than her older brother, Thutmose II, who is far weaker. Initially, Thutmose is happy to let his sister take an active role during his reign but he begins to turn against her when he falls in love with Aset and fears Hatshepsut has betrayed him with Senenmut. I had a little trouble believing Thutmose’s complete change of character here, however I do believe a lot of it may have been down to Thutmose’s vizier, Mensah, poisoning the pharaoh against his sister although this was not made very clear. When you consider Mensah is also Hatshepsut’s former lover who has been scorned, it begins to make a lot more sense but could have been exploited a little better.
It is also Mensah who informs the pharaoh about Hatshepsut’s relationship with Senenmut, even though they have barely kissed at this point, and Senenmut is duly punished. While Senenmut is supposed to be the love of Hatshepsut’s life, I found the depiction of the relationship disappointing as it was rather lukewarm which is a pity since Hatshepsut seemed like a passionate woman. Part of the problem is the pace of the story as it is so fast, there’s barely time for Hatshepsut to stop and smell the roses before she is moving on to her next goal. It would’ve been nice if Hatshepsut and Senenmut had been given some breathing space but I guess that is not possible when you are the most important female in the kingdom.
The pacing was a problem for me in The Conqueror’s Wife too, mainly because there is so much historical stuff to pack into the story, it must be a nightmare for the author to get the balance right. The Daughter of the Gods has the same issues because Hatshepsut spends so much time trying to become pharaoh, once she actually achieves it, her reign seems to be over in the blink of an eye. Hatshepsut’s reign was prolific for monument building and trading, both of which feature in the story, but they aren’t explored in any depth.
As with The Conqueror’s Wife, Thornton excels at setting the scene and there is enough detail to keep any fan of ancient Egypt happy without overwhelming the casual reader. The mythology is used to enrich the novel and you get a real feel for how the Egyptians’ beliefs influenced their daily lives and their future. The superstition is also very evident and the addition of Hatshepsut’s curse is a nice touch as it makes her appear just as vulnerable to the fickleness of the gods as anyone.
Overall, this was an interesting take on Hatshepsut’s life and Thornton does a good job of filling in the gaps but I can’t help feeling some parts were glossed over too much in the race to get to the finishing line. Maybe some stuff needed to be sacrificed in order to flesh out the more important parts of Hatshepsut’s story but it was an enjoyable and quick read nevertheless.