Of Love, Not Power

The Gloriana of the Ancient World, Hatshepsut is the kind of historical personality who demands stories to be written about her. Strong, bold, powerful, she was a breathing force of nature. A commander who oversaw the battlefield as her loyal warriors suppressed the foes of the Isis Throne. A savvy politician whose capable fingers plucked the strings of her court like a master musician plays a harp. An absolute ruler with a vision, with the determination to realize it. And at the same time a tender mother and passionate lover. A flame burning brightly ... a fire dangerous to those closest and dearest to her.

Stephanie Thornton isn't afraid to take on a challenge. The infamous saying, "Well-behaved women rarely make history" is her motto and that is clearly reflected in her composition. Unlike many other historical fiction authors she doesn't cringe away from showing the dirt and tarnish her characters collected along the path to glory and power. If you're going to tell the story, then tell it! And she does. Her previous portrayal of Empress Theodora was magnificent, gritty, and poetic, if not exactly lyrical. I was delighted to learn that she was working on bringing Hatshepsut to glowing, pulsing life as well.

Thornton's Hatshepsut is dynamic and impressive. Her thoughts are vibrant, a strong will reaches out to snatch at your mind. The commanding personality and the intelligence that had to fuel this ancient She-Pharaoh comes across clearly in this story. Sadly, though, it didn't exactly take center stage.

More than anything, this book was a love story. As Elizabeth I had her Robert Dudley, Hatshepsut had her Senenmut. It's one of the tantalizing bits of racy gossip from history that has survived to the modern day. The female ruler and her beloved, lusty architect. Is this scandal a whisper that was blown all out of proportion, or did the lowly-born Senenmut actually claim a place in the bed of one of the most powerful women to cross the world's stage? Who knows, there is no definite answer as it stands right now. There is only imagination, and that makes the tidbit of potential romance fair game for the pen-wielder.

While the relationship Hatshepsut and Senenmut came to share was very sweet and well-written, it came to overshadow Hatshepsut's personal story of trial, accomplishment, and an immortal victory against history. That isn't to say we didn't witness her loneliness and sense of helplessness during her marriage to Thutmosis, or the tension of her game of shadows against Mensah. Those episodes took a backseat, though. I have to admit I was disappointed.

Regardless, this is an excellent read and captures the world of the New Kingdom at the height of a Golden Age. The ending is an interesting explanation for the defacement of Hatshepsut's works, while also a fitting tribute to one who remade the world she lived in and conquered it for her own. Bravo!