Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Review: Sphinx's Queen by Esther Friesner

I picked this one up in my ARC grab way back at ALA (yes, I'm still working through those books!), solely based on my love of Ancient Egypt. I think Ancient Egypt was the first historical period I became obsessed with and my fascination with the subject hasn't left me yet. So I was very much looking forward to this one, only to be sorely disappointed.

Sphinx's Queen (Princesses of Myth)Nefertiti is on the run from the Pharaoh's court, after being accused of a heinous crime she didn't commit. With the help of Amenophis, brother to the crown prince who accused Nefertiti, and Nava, a young Hebrew slave girl, Nefertiti is able to escape Prince Thutmose's clutches and report his treachery to Pharaoh. While Pharaoh and his wife, a power hungry woman determined to see her favored son take the throne one day, are at first disbelieving, Pharaoh agrees that justice must be sought, and grants Nefertiti the chance for a fair judgement before the goddess Bast.

As Nefertiti continues her quest for justice, she finds herself increasingly isolated from her friends and family in the palace. She discovers twists and treacheries that force her to question some of her fundamental beliefs in the gods, but while she knows she may not have all the answers, there is only one just answer to her cause, and she will not rest until the world knows of her innocence - and her love of a certain prince of Egypt...

The biggest problem this novel has is how one dimensional the story and the characters are. While the fundamental plot is strong enough, I found being in Nefertiti's head to be tiring because she was just so. Darn. Good. She never has a selfish thought and is benign and forgiving of all who sin against her. She's so kind and good that she ends up changing the less savory characters in the story with little effort, they're just so charmed by her. She's so perfect that there's really no narrative arc for her - she's essentially a Mary Sue.

The secondary characters are no better. The villains are cartoons until they have the opportunity to really get to know Nefertiti - somehow she inspires them to want to be better people, just for the sake of being good after a lifetime of selfishness. There's also another royal wife who fits almost all aspects of the magical negro stereotype. She's the only character who is highlighted as having exceptionally dark skin (she was originally a Nubian princess before the Pharaoh claimed her as one of his many wives), she's all but forgotten in the palace and prefers to live that way, only suddenly coming out of hiding to help out the fairer-skinned Nefertiti because, again, Nefertiti is such a good person. Her presence is random and really rather jaw dropping.

Amazon tells me this is part of a series - it looks like Friesner tackles the stories of many historical women, and in fact Sphinx's Queen is the sequel to Sphinx's Princess, though this one stands on its own well enough. There's no mention on my ARC version that this is a sequel and there were no glaring holes in the narrative that made me feel like part of the story was missing - unless Sphinx's Princess includes an explanation for why Nefertiti is so perfect. Since I haven't read any of Friesner's other titles, I can't say how this compares to her other works and whether this is a satisfying sequel, but I can say that this gives me no desire to pick up any of her other titles.
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