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High quality writing and intensively researched,
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This review is from: Child of the Morning (Paperback)
Getting the sole bad point about this book out of the way first, some of the information on which Gedge bases the book we now know is inaccurate. Gedge, for example, has an enmity between Hatshepsut and Thothmes III, her nephew/step-son. This enmity was previously deduced from the evidence that the erasure of Hatshepsut's names from the king list occurred in Thothmes III's reign. But we know at present date that the chiselling out of her name occurred at the very end of his reign - hardly a rash act of impassioned hatred for his stepmother. Rather, it now appears that he had her names erased simply because a female Pharaoh contravened the idea of Ma'at (the Egyptian idea of order and the right way of things), and not because of any personal grudge or enmity. We also know now that whilst Hatshepsut claims in her monuments that her father, Thothmes I, intended for her to succeed him, this is a claim after the event, and no evidence from the actual time suggests anything other than Thothmes intended for his son to become the next Pharaoh. Hatshepsut made this claim years after the actual event, in order to reinforce her right to the Double Crown. There's a very good reason why I haven't marked the book down, despite this, whereas I might count it against a recently released novel, and that's because at the time Gedge was writing this book, in the mid-70's, the accepted theory of the time was exactly as Gedge portrays it and she can hardly be faulted for discoveries years and decades later revealing to us that this was not the case.
Hatshepsut, the protagonist, more than has the personality to carry the book. A young girl robust, curious, and outspoken, she grows into a woman driven, determined, and diligent. Hers is a strong personality, and she carries herself with a confidence and complete belief in her right to be Pharaoh as the Daughter of Amun. Common sense combines with intelligence to produce a diligent governance of Egypt. Her dominant personality overshadows everyone around her, especially other women - even when compared to Aset, who undoubtedly has her own physical appeals. Her submission to Thothmes, however, instead of getting rid of him, is somewhat disappointing, although of course Gedge had to stick to historical accuracy. Senmut is undoubtedly the secondary character, and some of the action is seen through his eyes, when we are not looking over Hatshepsut's shoulder. The controversial advisor has been portrayed here by Gedge as likable, rather than ambitious, and indeed he is. From a humble peasant, to we'eb priest, to architect, and hereditary prince, we are cheering for his rise throughout. His loyalty to Hatshepsut is absolute, as she is both cause of his good fortune, the woman he loves, and the upholder of Ma'at in Egypt.
Thothmes II is not an unlikable character, but he is certainly not one of admiration. He is lazy and enjoys a living in the lap of luxury. He struggles with both his academic education and his martial training, and even as Pharaoh he shies away from the tasks of government and going into battle personally. And yet Thothmes is more perceptive than most of the other characters give him credit for, and where he is a mouse in battle, Hatshepsut is surprised to find that he is a man in the bedroom, with a certain quality of charisma in this arena. Aset is another character worthy of note. She is sharp, like Hatshepsut, but where Hatshepsut is intelligent, she is cunning, where Hatshepsut exerts her authority in the open, she cultivates it insidiously behind bedroom doors... both dangerous but in different ways.
Thothmes III is the antagonist to Hatshepsut's protagonist at the end of the book, but in many ways he is a lot like her. He's incredibly sharp and intelligent, he takes an active hand in the governance of Egypt, he excels in both academic and martial pursuits, and holds a confidence all his own. The only difference is that he seems to be much more eager for war, where as Hatshepsut promotes peace. I would disagree with this portrayal though. At the time Gedge wrote the book the idea of Hatshepsut as a female ruler avoiding war and promoting peace, and Thothmes III as a red-blooded male war-monger, was a very popular perspective, but the truth was quite different. Hatshepsut never shied away from war, and did not promote peace because of her femininity, in fact she recognised that being a war leader was an important part of being Pharaoh. Conversely, Thothmes, though he was indeed a warrior-king, did not ruin Egypt with war, but won many victories and conquered for Egypt a sizeable empire. In any case, this creation of strong opponents to face Hatshepsut brought the tension of the story alive.
There's a good dose of action, but the book is more heavily weighted by character relationships. As with all of her books, Gedge makes sure that all her characters are fleshed out and given depth and realism, and don't appear as stereotypes, caricatures, or shallow and two-dimensional. Dialogue perfectly suits each character, not a line out of place. It's obvious that Gedge spends a lot of time and care in creating her characters, and by the time the book is published knows them like the back of her hand. Altogether, her research was, as ever, extensive and contributes to the wonderful level of detail in the descriptions - environments brought to vivid life, rich and fascinating culture of Ancient Egypt, and the vital characters.