The Amarna Period: The Last Heiress by Stephanie Liaci (2011)

Another idea that people share about the Amarna Period is a great sympathy for Ankhesenamun, the girl-queen. She does not get quite the popular press of her husband Tutankhamun, on account of lacking his golden tomb, but the vague outline of a tragic figure is clear to whoever reads a little of her history. Married to her father, made to bear him a little girl that died, then married to her half-brother and robbed of him a few years later, without any living children to protect her position. In the past few years, DNA testing has established that we have (probably) found the mummy of Ankhesenamun. The mummy’s head has gone missing since its initial discovery. Liaci’s novel of Ankhesenamun explores an intriguing suggestion – what if her head went missing so easily because it had been severed?

Although Liaci’s novel uses the first-person-view-of-royalty device, which I’ve mentioned I don’t care for, I was nevertheless drawn in and kept to the end. Unlike other authors I’ve read so far in this little project, Liaci actually addresses the chronic disorders and ill health of Tutankhamun, and to a certain extent, of Ankhesenamun. She depicts Tutankhamun as constantly struggling to be a mighty warrior, pushing his body to its limits and hiding his disabilities. He is also fascinated with the military, which is highly plausible and poignant. Would World War I have happened if Kaiser Wilhelm had not suffered from a mangled arm all his life?

 She also ignores Tutankhamun’s health and youth where it is convenient, in order to transform the relationship between Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun into a conventional romance. A wounded, fiery heroine and a gentle, patient, mature lover – hardly likely in such a strange, sad situation. Ankhesenamun was three years older than her husband. They married at about nine and twelve. Although they no doubt had a bond between them, this is a little young for the story of sweeping-off of feet that Liaci tells. In this book, the couple consistently interacts as if they were in their mid-twenties, not their tweens.

There is some high-octane villainy near the end, melodramatically done but historically plausible. I appreciate Liaci’s clever use of the historical context of Ankhesenamun’s desperate plea for a Hittite husband. All in all, I would definitely read another Egyptian novel by Liaci. I hope to see more recent Amarna novels that use the DNA and forensic information to tell this bizarre story.