The fifth and the second to last in the historical mystery series about Lord Meren.

(There are alternate ways of writing the Egyptian names. I use the ones Robinson has used.)

This book has quite a different structure from the previous books in the series. The book starts with Nefertiti as a 12-year old girl who lives among the royalty but isn’t yet one of them. Then we see the murder of menagerie guard Bakht whom a mysterious figure stabs and throws to the baboon cage. However, poor Bakht’s murder gets very little attention because Meren is dealing with a lot of other things.

About one third of the chapters focus on Nefertiti. She is shown first as young girl during the reign of Akhenaten’s father Amunhotep III and later as a young chief wife to Akhenaten. Her father Ay and Ay’s sister the Queen Tiye choose Nefertiti as Akhenaten’s wife because they believe the she can guide him away from his odd religious thoughts. Nefertiti is, of course, rather shocked and even a bit dismayed by this decision but she doesn’t have a choice. At the age of twelve she has to leave behind her childhood and start to train being a wife and a queen for a man who everyone thinks as peculiar and sickly. We get short chapters of the Queen life; the way that Amunhotep guided her and then put his trust in her. Her loving relationship with her six daughters despite the disappointment that none of them were boys. The way that she tries to moderate Akhenaten’s religious fanatism and help the common people. Her life doesn’t seem to be happy even though outwardly she has everything she wants. Akhenaten concentrates more and more with communing with his god and leaves the governing to Nefertiti and Ay.

However, most of the chapters concentrate of Lord Meren and his search for Nefertiti’s murderer. Everyone thought that Nefertiti died of the plague which killed four of her daughters. But in a previous book Meren found out that she was in fact poisoned. He even found out who did the deed but not who was behind it all. Also, he has spoken to some of Nefertiti’s former servants and they have died soon afterwards. Previously, he found out the names of three men who were powerful enough and arrogant enough to have the Queen of Egypt killed. Now, Meren is pursuing them to see what he can find out about them. He starts by arranging a meeting with one of them, the merchant, and later meets the second who is a high ranking soldier. However, before he can do much more it becomes obvious that someone is trying to frame Meren as a traitor.

Once again, I rather enjoyed the alternating chapters and the different structure. However, a reader who is looking for a straight forward murder mystery is going to be disappointed. The chapters with Nefertiti don’t really contribute to the mystery story. Instead they create atmosphere, setting, and characters (three things that I love to bits). In fact, they could have been omitted and the mystery story would have been more coherent.

Meren himself is dealing with a guilt ridden younger daughter and the middle daughter who is too smart for her own good (in the Egyptian culture), and trying to protect his family. He doesn’t even confide to the young pharaoh because he doesn’t have evidence and also he wants to spare the youngster’s feelings. Even though here Akhenaten and Tutankhamun are brothers, there is so much age difference between them that Nefertiti was like a mother to Tutankhamun. Meren grows increasingly suspicious, grumpy, and frustrated but he also has to bear the price for his own distrust in the people close to him.

A lot of the things here, and especially the characters, are conjecture from rather sparse historical records. I have no problem with any of the conjectures here and of course, the book was written in 1998. Even though I enjoyed the chapters focusing on Nefertiti, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with them. Akhenaten wasn’t monogamous even though a casual reader would have gotten that impression from the story. In fact, just like other pharaohs he had many wives and could appoint any of them as the Great Royal Wife. However, none of the other wives are even mentioned in the book even though I would have thought that there would have been fierce competition among them for the position of the chief wife, especially since Nefertiti had no sons. But I guess that would have needed its own book. After all, the storyline here focused on the abrupt changing of religion.

Another very good installment in the series if you like the Egyptian setting and atmosphere.

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