Ahmose is a young Egyptian of royal blood. When her father, the Pharaoh, dies without an heir she and her elder sister are both married off to General Thutmose, that he might rule Egypt via his connection to the royal line.
Ahmose is a more than deeply religious girl. She is chosen of the gods and has the ability to read prophetic dreams. Despite being the younger sister she is selected as the first queen, setting off a traumatic and bitter rivalry with her beloved sister, Mutnofret.
The sisters must give Thutmose children, but Ahmose is harboring a secret. Having witnessed her young friend die in the agony of childbirth, she is utterly terrified of pregnancy and giving birth. Yet Ahmose must do her duty; she has foreseen that she will be the mother of the next Pharaoh. As her sister is delivered of boy child after boy child, Ahmose must fight to retain her authority as queen and the love of her husband.
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High drama in Ancient Egypt! Ms. Ironside has created a compelling fictional account of the lives and struggles of these ambitious royals. It is beautifully written, with a fine grasp of historical detail combined with a confident and poetic use of language. Egypt comes alive: the heat of the desert sun, the aroma of scented wax cones melting, the juice on a plate of figs. The characters seem like real people: dutiful, passionate, scared, jealous, loving and determined. All in all, it was a wonderful read that I found difficult to put down. I’m hoping Ms. Ironside will continue the series.
I’ve been going back and forth on whether this is a four or a five star book. My one disappointment was that it covered very little in the way of politics. With Thutmose off subduing various factions for lengthy periods of time, I would expect Ahmose to be deeply involved in the smooth running of Egypt in his absence. This aspect of her life was given short shrift in comparison to the ferocious battle with her sister for supremacy in their husband’s eyes. On the other hand, the plight of royal women across centuries and countries has been to be more valued as a womb than as a person. The importance of pregnancy, fertility, and the repeated bearing of healthy (and preferably) boy children cannot be overstated. Ms. Ironside does this aspect full justice, including some of the most realistic and well-written childbirth scenes I have ever encountered in fiction. So, 4.5 stars and a hope for another book in the series.
Full disclosure: I first encountered this story in a writer’s community I am a member of. I read the synopsis, then wished the writer luck with what sounded like a great story. She asked me if I’d be willing to critique the first three chapters before she started submitting the manuscript to agents. I did so, fully believing that one day I’d be buying The Sekhmet Bed in a bookstore. I believe that this book had the backing of two literary agents, but failed to sell to a big publishing house. I’m delighted to be finally able to read the entire story. I’ve been waiting for a long time. It was well worth the wait.
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Images: Thutmose I and early 18th Dynasty women.