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A Book Review...

Egypt’s Female Pharaoh Hat-Shep-Sut Gets Royal Treatment in Eugene Stovall's Historical Novel

 By Arelya J. Mitchell

“Consort of the Female Pharaoh” transcends all genres. Literally. If you are a reader who likes historical fiction, romance, history, spy, adventure, and even mystery, author Eugene Stovall has delivered these elements of genres with a contemporary feel that does not interfere with the cadence of tone or authenticity of the story of Egypt’s female Pharaoh, Hat-Shep-Sut. Stovall’s ability to capture then to elevate the politics of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty in itself is a noteworthy feat of depicting ‘power’—power in its rawest form: Politics. Then Stovall delves into that power and grabs onto its volatility and nuances to move the story of Egypt’s female Pharaoh’s rise to power along with her consort--a commoner-- Senen-Mut, and other strong-willed male players in this intriguing historical landscape. Stovall’s execution of this little known history is brilliant, creative and bold. Readers will be more than satisfied; they will be pleasantly overwhelmed.

 

Stovall has done what novelist Robert Graves did in “I, Claudius”, which is to take little known historical figures in a B.C. era and bring them to life with a modernity to import their historical significance. The reason I use ‘little known historical figures’ is because most know about Cleopatra and Mark Antony, both cross-figures in Egyptian and Roman history whose love story and politics have transcended time. But it is a safe bet to say that not many knew of Claudius whom Graves popularized or of the female Pharaoh Maat-Ka-Re Hat-Shep-Sut whom Stovall will popularize once this novel is released.

 

Even though Egypt had female pharaohs, they were a rarity. And just as Claudius’ stammering was a handicap to him, Hat-Shep-Sut’s being a female was a handicap to her. However, she did have better luck in managing Egypt than Cleo did.  Among Egyptologists, Hat-Shep-Sut’s reign is considered more prosperous and successful than Cleopatra’s ill-fated love-stricken reign. Pharaoh Hat-Shep-Sut was smarter, and the way she conducted her tenure-- if one were to get completely contemporary-- was in the same spirit as Tina Turner’s lyrical mantra of “What’s love got to do with it?”  Hat-Shep-Sut was so bent on making the Pharaoh ‘monarchy’ solely matriarchal by any means necessary that she usually stayed in a rage which surprisingly did not diminish her ability to think and plot. And think and plot some more.

 

 

To reiterate, that feeling of the reader being pleasantly overwhelmed is found in how smoothly the novel moves and in how so much knowledge in Egyptology the reader picks up without that information being so intrusive that it interferes with the flow of action. And there is plenty of action for those who might mistake this as being solely a ‘chick flick’ in historical romance book form. That, it is not.

 

Stovall has meticulously done his research. In chapter I, the reader is introduced to the equivalent of today’s geek in Senen-Mut, a commoner, who has the ability to make good judgment calls. And when he doesn’t he has the good sense to learn from it. And on his way to becoming Hat-Shep-Sut’s lover and adviser, Senen-Mut takes some hard falls as he treads the thin line between love and hate; heresy and politics; peace and war; death and life. Since Hat-Shep-Sut is bent on making Egypt ‘monarchy’ matriarchal, one has to wonder if Senen-Mut will make it out alive—thus, the intrigue if you don’t already know the history. And if you do, Stovall provides an insight into Senen-Mut that makes it all the more intriguing just to see how many lives this ‘cat’ has.

           

Stovall proves his writing agility when he back tracks specific events then pushes them forward again to fill in the gaps. This is how he interweaves the mystery and spy genre into what could have been straight historical fiction writing. One gets the feeling that today’s C.I.A. could learn a thing or two from Egypt’s spy network. Speaking of the latter, Stovall introduces and explores yet another cast of historical characters at the hands of both a manipulative Hat-Shep-Sut and Senen-Mut. Of this group the most intriguing are Iby, Senen-Mut’s poor boyhood friend; the powerful Seth-Mesy who would like to be Pharaoh himself ‘by any means necessary’; and Hat-Shep-Sut’s nephew, Thut-Moses, who seemingly in name only is Hat-Shep-Sut’s co-regent. With Hat-Shep-Sut plotting to secure a matriarchal line that heralds “the foremost of distinguished women” means that Thut-Moses is a serpent in her side; yet, Thut-Moses is more interested in the art of war than the art of law. Today he is considered one of Egypt’s most ruthless generals.  Of course, one mustn’t leave out Hat-Shep-Sut and Senen-Mut’s daughter, Neferu-Re, who must have been the first with ‘Mommy Dearest’ issues and the archetype of the classic mother-daughter rivalry.

 

The following passage is just a glimpse into some other historical figures. This one concerns Hat-Shep-Sut’s Pharaoh father who was also named Thut-Moses.

 

As Seth Mesy and Hapu-Seneb make their way out of the Pharaoh’s Seal room, together, their whispers are punctuated with oaths and scowls. The priests are not happy.

                        “Pharaoh continues to support the heresy,” Seth-Mesy whispers.

            “It will not end until liberals like Pen-Nek-Heb begin advocating mass education and the commoners are engaged in mass disobedience,” Hepu-Seneb agrees.

            “When I first put Thut-Moses on the throne,” Seth-Mesy snarls, “not a day went by that he wasn’t thanking me.”

            Hepu-Seneb nods his head in agreement.

            “Now, he threatens to put my head on a pike!” The high priest’s voice rises in anger.

            “Pharaoh believes he can ignore god’s power,” Hepu-Seneb agrees.

            “The gods will not permit it!” Seth-Mesy rages.

 

All in all, just as Graves’ historical novel was pulled from print to film in what became the highly popular award-winning PBS Masterpiece Theater series, “I, Claudius”, Stovall’s treatment of Hat-Shep-Sut’s reign as Egypt’s female Pharaoh deserves the same. I personally cannot wait to get out the popcorn.

Post Script

Eugene Stovall’s “Consort of the Female Pharaoh” (subtitled “Hat-Shep-Sut, Senen-Mut & Egypt’s 18th Dynasty”)  is now available on Kindle and other retail outlets.