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Reviewed by Colleen Turner
When I read Stephanie Thornton’s first novel, The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora, I knew I had found one of those authors that would leave me always starving for their next book to come out. She created such a relatable, humanized figure in Theodora – a woman nearly lost to history who rose from the dregs of society to become one of the most powerful Empresses Rome would ever know – that I have been waiting with my fingers twitching to see what she would come up with next. Let me just say that I was not disappointed. In fact, the author’s second novel, Daughter of the Gods, is phenomenal!
Daughter of the Gods is the story of Hatshepsut, a princess of Ancient Egypt who rose from the wild, reckless second daughter of the Pharaoh Thutmose I to become Pharaoh in her own right. She ruled successfully for many years during the Golden Age of Egypt and gave everything for the country she loved. While many of the facts regarding her life and reign are lost to history, Ms. Thornton combines her obvious painstaking research with a fleshed out story that beings Hatshepsut to live as a feisty, often selfish yet brilliant and caring woman who refused to back down from what she believed was the Gods’ wish that she rule Egypt.
After Hatshepsut’s older sister was killed trying to rescue her from a hippo (one that wouldn’t have been a threat to either young woman if Hatshepsut had been on their boat where she should have been) Hatshepsut must take over the role her sister was meant to play and marry her half-brother, the future King Thutmose II, to secure his claim to the Egyptian throne. Having her freedom so suffocated by her uncaring and often cruel husband and her duties as his Great Royal Wife, Hatshepsut finds happiness where she can get it: in her daughter, Neferure; in her brother’s commoner wife, Aset, and their son; and in the attraction she shares with her brother’s adviser, Senenmut. Yet always a searing knowledge that she was meant for more burns in Hatshepsut, even when she receives a prophecy that her name will live on forever but it will mean the destruction of everyone she loves. When Thutmose II suddenly dies, Hatshepsut sees her chance for power, something the Gods clearly want her to have. Knowing that she must do what is right for Egypt, Hatshepsut will face unbelievable obstacles and unfathomable sacrifices in her road to the throne, as well as after. Her life is no longer free but she will use every skill she has to prove a woman is just as capable of leading and bringing prosperity to her country as any man.
What impresses me so much about Ms. Thornton’s writing is the way she takes these historical figures and makes them seem so present and relatable. Hatshepsut is flawed, like any human, with a short temper and a selfish and haughty streak that would rival any diva. On the other hand, she is very aware of her duties to her family and to Egypt and does what she must. She is also remarkably compassionate and struggles with decisions when it places other people’s lives in danger. Even when it comes to the complicated yet sweet romance between Hatshepsut and Senenmut you have to watch her struggle with the limitations her duties demand. Without giving anything away, your heart can’t help but break along with Hatshepsut when an ultimate betrayal is revealed, something I did not see coming at all, and will be amazed at the bravery and strength she displays even when death seems easier. This is a woman to admire, even with her faults, and the reader cannot help but cheer for her throughout.
While there are some obvious, slightly squeamish, differences between the Ancient Egyptian culture described in the book and ours (most notably the fact that the royal Pharaohs often married their sisters and had many other wives and concubines on top of that) the detail and attention shown to this culture, their customs and superstitions fully envelops the reader and makes it easy to envision the settings as well as the characters. To be honest, I slowed my reading down by spending an inordinate amount of time looking up objects and pictures online to see how they compared to the story. This need to know more about what is going on in a book is a clear sign to me that it is a winner.
Regardless of what genres of books you enjoy, pick up Daughter of the Gods. It is just a stellar story and I would imagine any reader will find points of interest in it. Now that I am through, I am not so calmly waiting to reading Ms. Thornton’s next novel, The Tiger Queens, due out in November!
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by NAL/Penguin Group. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.