Monday, August 2, 2010

Sphinx's Princess Review (Esther Friesner)

Nefertiti is a dutiful, docile child, whose only interests, aside from the normal pursuits of a commoner's daughter, are music and dance. But an encounter with a scribe arouses secret lessons in the arts of reading and writing. As she enters her teen years, her growing beauty and her developing singing and dancing skills attract attention near and far. And when her aunt, Queen Tiye, summons Nefertiti's family, her life takes an unexpected turn. The strong-willed queen plans to use Nefertiti as a pawn in her desire for power. Even though she must obey the queen and live in the royal palace at Thebes, Nefertiti's spirit and mind will not rest. She continues to challenge herself, learning how to drive a chariot and hunt with a bow. With control of a kingdom at stake and threats at every turn, Nefertiti is forced to make choices and stand up for her beliefs in ways she never imagined.

I absolutely love stories about Ancient Egypt. At the age of seven, I gobbled up every book the local library afforded on Egyptian history. I became an expert on the Egyptian mummification process at ten years of age - that is still an accomplishment that I am especially proud of, though I confess that I am a tad bit rusty on the process now; it's been years since I have reviewed. When I went to the Field Museum in Chicago many years back, I only cared about the Egyptian display and practically went bonkers when my friend's mom surprised us with tickets to the King Tut exhibit that was visiting then. I cannot describe the untold joy I had rushing from one display case to the other, babbling on and on about the artifact therein and the theories surrounding this city and that pharaoh. I had employees asking me if I would care to come work there someday (my reply was a yearning yes, but sadly I don't think I could live in Chicago even for my beloved mummies). I am not entirely certain why Ancient Egypt held such allurement for me, but I was fascinated by them even more than the Romans - which is saying a lot for me. I wanted to be a professional Egyptologist, until I found out that being one mostly meant teaching at a university, rather than gallivanting off to Egypt to visit the pyramids and Giza Plateau. I ought to have been born in a year that would have permitted me to be in my early 20s when King Tut was discovered.

That said, let me now review this book. Nefertiti is one of the royal Egyptian figures that I used to read about the most, but I have regrettably forgotten most of what I read about her over the years. Nevertheless, I found Esther Friesner's take on how Nefertiti came to power fairly compelling. Her writing style captured the richness of Egypt in a way that I have not encountered in fiction for a while. I cared for Nefertiti, her little slave girl Berett, and Henenu - who was my favorite. At times, I even found myself caring for the minor characters just as much as for the major - sometimes even more so. What an accomplishment when an author can do that!!

The story itself is intriguing. At first, I found that to get to the actual storyline took a little while, and I was slightly bored in the beginning. I wouldn't ask nor advise Esther Friesner to cut out these passages, because they were certainly important for laying out the groundwork for the story. I imagine that when I go back to read Sphinx's Princess again, I won't find the passages so boring. Sometimes it's just the mood I am in.

I especially liked how Esther Friesner blended in Egyptian beliefs without giving the story a supernatural or fantastical feeling to it. The only thing that approaches fantasy is the dreams Nefertiti sometimes has. The way she included the Egyptian religion felt very authentic, unlike most authors, who somehow end up muddling the whole affair. I have always had trouble keeping the different Egyptian gods and goddesses straight in my head, but Ms. Friesner actually helped me remember who was who and what they were in control of. I am glad that I am not Catholic, for it must be just as confusing keeping all of the saints in order. ;)

I enjoyed Sphinx's Princess and look forward to reading the sequel - Sphinx's Queen. I also need to read Esther Friesner's two books about Helen of Troy - Nobody's Princess and Nobody's Prize. Unfortunately, the library doesn't have them . . .

Star Rating: 4/5 (really liked it)

Others in This Series:
1)Sphinx's Princess
2)Sphinx's Queen


  1. Interesting review. Have you read any of the Theodosia series? The books are for the 9-12 crowd but I think they are really good. Her mom is an Egyptologist and is always bringing back artifacts with supernatural vibes. Theodosia of course figures everything out...

  2. I have not, but it sounds rather familiar.


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