REVIEW: The Missing Queen by Sally Watson
King Tutankhamon is dead. The possibly-divine ivory cat Nefru is still (perhaps) putting a paw into royal Egyptian affairs.Lord Ay wants a royal wife-Tut’s widow, actually-to give him the blood-right to the throne. She flees marriage with him and finds long-lost relatives. Princesses Baketamon and Meri have both longed to be Queen of Egypt-but both find sand in that honey. General Horemheb (described as being like ‘desert red, rectangles and a lion’) has sent Ranofer to find a lady once known as Twitterwit.
Four competitive Hunting Parties from Thebes are searching for some long-missing princesses. Chief of Police Mahu knows where they all are, but won’t tell. His son Ranofer, who fears he’ll never fit his father’s sandals-and fears Horemheb even more-doesn’t want to know. Besotted and delusional Ahmose knows, but his incoherence just further confuses all four Hunting Parties-who were already at cross-purposes. A garrulous washerman thinks he knows everything. The kitten Katti sometimes gives what might possibly be divine messages from Nefru (or Bastet?). The massive cat Ab-ram, still always getting tripped over in doorways, still innocently certain of his welcome, changes history for all of them.
Dear Ms. Watson,
“The Missing Queen” is about just that – a widowed queen who has high tailed it out of the Egyptian city of Thebes after the death of her husband “Tuti” better known as Tutankhamun or “King Tut.” As I said in my review of the first book in this series, “The Ivory Cat” “There is much that is known about this time and these people but enough that is disputed that a clever author can adroitly skip and skim through it to tell a fascinating story.” Adroit skipping is continued in this book.
Though readers don’t absolutely have to read the first book before this one, doing that will save a lot of time as most of the characters here were first introduced there. A quick study of the royal family and their interrelationships, or possibly no interrelationships as the historical record sometimes isn’t clear, would also not be a bad idea.
Widowed Queen Ankhesenamun, third daughter of former Pharaoh Akhenaten and his Great Royal Wife Nefertiti, suspects that her half brother/husband might have been “helped” into the afterlife as he died just as he reached the age when he’d be able to rule without regents (how convenient). Marriage to her would give any man the God right to rule the country. Even without that worry, she’s had enough of royal life, the royal court, plus all the scheming that goes along with it. With the help of her royal Companions, the parents of one of them, the small Blue Lotus boat, and Nefru the white cat, Anksi’s going to make a break for it.
Anksi and her relation, Baketamun, have always been almost look-alikes and since Baketamun has always craved the title and role of Great Royal Wife and Queen of Egypt, getting her to impersonate Anksi is an easy request. The new Pharaoh Ay (who was one of the regents about to lose his power when Tut oh, so conveniently died) wants Anksi back in order to marry her and obtain a God right but on second thought Baketamun (also royal) will do. But he’s still going to send henchmen out to find Anksi as two royal wives on whom to father sons and heirs are better than one. Oh yeah and there’s a missing granddaughter of his he hasn’t bothered with for years, who is also a Royal. Better discover if she’s still alive as well as two other royal princesses plus Nefertiti’s sister. Can the royal women dodge the new Pharaoh and forge (or continue forging) their lives as private citizens?
What I enjoyed so much in “The Ivory Cat” is back in full force here, namely the intricate details of life in ancient Egypt. Nothing is sugar coated for modern sensibilities – intermarriage among close relatives, slavery, lack of bodily shame, and a flexible religion. Skin color meant nothing to the ancient Egyptians and lovers were freely taken before marriage. Then there’s the question of whether or not Nefru (the Ivory Cat) is actually Bastet or just gets regular hints and messages from Her to pass on to humans. There’s a new cat, Katti, who joins the household of the “Royals in hiding” as well as the whole clowder of Royal cats in the palaces in Thebes.
By this time, the old Egyptian Gods had been officially restored and no one was eager to disturb “ma’at” – cosmic order, justice, divine harmony, and peace among other translations – which comes in handy later in the book. Those looking in on royal life are sometimes bewildered about why anyone would want to leave it while those who had been trapped in it are desperate to escape. One character I found myself liking despite her prickly nature and unwillingness to bend is Baketamun who seems to also be an outsider always looking in much as Shastriel began in the first book. I never saw her as actually unwilling to join in as much as fundamentally unable to. The revelation she discovers towards the end of the book as well as her strength of character are moving.
I also like the fact that there are extremely strong female characters in the story and that they are the main ones moving the action. Life in ancient Egypt might not have been all that bad with the rights and privileges the women in that country had. And given the fact that feline purring has been scientifically determined to be the correct frequency to aid in health, perhaps the fact that the ancient Egyptians viewed Bastet as helping with healing was no accident. Lion headed goddess Sekhmet – in charge of courage and retribution – also makes an appearance as viewed by a princess who seems to be a synesthete.
While I could stop reading here, I’m eager to discover what the next book has in store. B