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.


3 thoughts on “The Amarna Period: The Last Heiress by Stephanie Liaci (2011)

  1. Miss Patridge,

    While browsing the internet (when I should be working!), I discovered and thoroughly enjoyed your review of my novel, The Last Heiress. I’ve just recently started responding to readers, and in this case I do so to compliment the fascinating blog you’ve put together here. There is certainly a wide selection of media on the Amarna period, but as you noted, very little that has taken into account recent DNA findings. This new information adds quite a bit of depth to an already dramatic history. It is my absolute conviction that Ankhesenamun met an unnatural end, and I can only hope (while doubting) that there might be any discovery of burial goods or even documentary evidence lending us clues as to her death. The lack of such seems quite grim.

    My novel touched on some dark material, and I’ll admit it was an intense job to tell, to the best of my ability, such a difficult story. Second to the abuse that Ankhesenamun suffered, it was difficult, at the time I wrote and sought publication, to be one of the lone voices suggesting Tutankhamun’s possible martial role in Ancient Egypt. I took quite a beating for it in intellectual circles, but held my course all the same. In my mind, there is a preponderance of evidence pointing to his participation in at least two campaigns, but conventional Egyptology held the fix belief that the Pharaoh was too young, or too sick. I’m glad that this is now questioned. If indeed Tutankhamun told us true on his chapel walls, and if my interpretation of his grave goods is correct, it would be a tragic mistake to deny him credit for these exploits, however he might have participated. For certain, he struggled to overcome challenges to fulfill his duty and/or passion, and he deserves his propers. Quite a stubborn will in that one, I think! Ankhesenamun as well, naturally.

    As for my interpretation of the Hittite Affair, I could never see it any other way. When one considers her extremely closed yet highly political upbringing, and traditional Egyptian custom, along with her abuse and the shocking death of her youthful husband (possibly during battle with the Hittites or their proxies), I can imagine no other scenario than what I wrote: a desperate intrigue, with a purpose far different than what the world currently assumes! Of course, that is my liberty to take as an author of historical fiction. One must “fill in the gaps” based on what seems most likely, after all known fact is considered.

    I’m glad you enjoyed my work! If you have any questions or comments, I have a Facebook page @ Stephanie Liaci Author. I check it when I can, but like most people’s Facebooks, the feed winds up filling up with funny cat pictures no matter how professional one tries to keep it…

    I swear I do check it, at least bi-monthly.

    Best Regards!
    Stephanie Liaci

    PS: As far as forthcoming related works, I’ve an Egypt novel on deck, concerning the founding of the 18th Dynasty. Currently I’m working on a project set during WW2 Germany.

    • I am so glad you stopped by! Thank you for the good word on this ongoing project of mine. I’ve read some fine work (and some dreadful trash), but your book was definitely one of the most enjoyable, and most difficult to put down. Yours is a particularly clever reinterpretation of the Hittite Affair, and I don’t believe I’ve read it before. I will be happy to keep reading your work!

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed the book. As far as the Hittite Affair, I’ve heard many theories during my research. One of them–I think in Bob Brier’s book?–was that Nefertiti was the author, not Ankhesenamun. This was based on the fact that the Hittite court recorded the first letter as arriving in the early autumn. Akhenaten is, as far as current information goes, said to have died around October, so the author uses this to attribute the famous “I have no sons” letter to Nefertiti. I have several problems with this, namely that we likely have Nefertiti ruling on her own as Pharaoh after her husband’s death. As an older, experienced, and from all evidence brilliant political woman, Nefertiti was unlikely to take such a desperate tact to hold onto power. Can you imagine if the Hittite prince had made it into Egypt? Who would have accepted him? Not the powerful military, nor the powerful Ay! Civil war would have been the result.

    I’ve caught some criticism over accusing Ay of the great crime. But the evidence bears out that he made some questionable moves after Tutankhamun’s death to seize the throne. Tutankhamun’s tomb arrangements alone are quite scandalous: the use of a commoner’s tomb for (while the tomb that Ay took was absolutely a royal tomb, and close to Tutankhamun’s grandfather in the West Valley) , the absence of his chief wife in artistic portrayal (after Tutankhamun’s quite deliberate showcasing of Ankhesenamun wherever he could), and most of all, the fact that Ay ordered himself painted before the fact not only performing the Opening of the Mouth ceremony–an heir’s role–but worse, painted wearing the blue crown of the Tuthmosid dynasty. It begs the question: when did Ay take command? Before or after Pharaoh’s death? I suggest in my book that he’d been gathering support for years, and surely he’d need to, as a commoner grasping for the throne. Based on the funeral flowers, Tutankhamun died in late winter. Ay dates his reign to the third month of Peret, which, taking into consideration the slight controversies over the Egyptian calendar, is close to the same time. Then we have Ankhesenamun’s letter reaching Hatti by at least September; you can see why Brier (if my memory serves), would have looked for an alternative explanation. Then again, it isn’t unreasonable to assume it took a while for Ay to pull off his coup, nor would it be unimaginable that Ay back-dated his reign, or as in my book, took a year to achieve coronation. And all of this happening when precedent is already in place for Ankhesenamun to take the throne alone, as a widow, as her mother and several other royal women did! If we attribute the Hittite Affair to Ankhesenamun, then we have a royal advisor acting deliberately against the desires of his mistress, which is high treason.

    Some have suggested to me that Ay helped Ankhesenamun by marrying her and grabbing the throne, but IMO that’s insane. The desperate remark, “I cannot marry a servant!” tell us so much about her feelings for Ay (likely 60 to her 21), as well as her feelings about her own station in life. Isolated, and almost a different class of human being, her only “proper” mate gone to death. Even more so than her predecessor princess, Ankhesenamun, as a daughter of Akhenaten, would have seen herself as above all humanity, save her half-brother. The idea that she married Ay of her own plan (as would have been her right to choose a husband) and volition makes no sense!

    Interesting your statement that she was three years older than Tutankhamun. I broke from that based on one of the enormous cliffside engravings, the Boundary Stela of Amarna created in Year Six Akhenaten, where only two princesses were present. We know that Akhenaten depicted his children by Nefertiti even in infancy. It did make for a better story to have Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun as close contemporaries in age, but that stela needs to be explained. If she was born in Year Six, and we have an age of death for Tutankhamun at 19 after 8 1/2 years of rule, we have him between 10-11 at ascension; and Akhenaten lived into his 17th year as king, making Ankhesenamun roughly the same age. The issues with Nefertiti’s short reign and the question of Smenkhare will affect the dating of Tutankhamun’s birth. Further complicated by back-dating of reigns to include co-regency periods. One can only hope for new discoveries, while mourning the political reality in Egypt today that makes open research difficult if not impossible. I was privately invited to Egypt by some readers after the Revolution, shortly after Morsi’s proclamation protecting only the “religions of the book”, meaning of course Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. I wondered aloud if I might get arrested or harassed for burning incense at Abydos, or otherwise showing respect to the ancients, and refused to go when that question was not satisfactorily answered. Which, if you consider, is exactly what Akhenaten did: proscribing religion and peering into men’s souls, leading to the destruction of his family. And as during the end of the 18th dynasty, the Egyptian people show their unwillingness to have their spirituality and morality controlled by their government. A great deal of Egypt’s trouble during Akhenaten’s reign was caused by the crash of the temple-“industrial” complex, with something like 800,000 jobs nationwide tied up in temple support that were lost when the gods were outlawed. But just as bits of Egyptian faith survived the Arab conquest in the “prayer bowls” and boat races celebrating holidays, the Egyptian spirit survives, and the common people of Egypt are terrifying when they reject their leadership. I can’t give a child rapist much credit willingly, but to hang onto his throne for so long proves what a powerful man Akhenaten was. He would have had a great personal magnetism, no? My research indicates he completed the banning of the gods by Year 9, giving him eight years of crushing rule over an unwilling population. And back to my above argument…. Ay would have been most instrumental in controlling this population. Then examine Horemhab’s reign: his greatest achievement was a reform of the legal code and cracking down on corruption. I interpreted this as proof that Akhenaten’s reign was corrupt: in order to win the complicity of his nomarchs and noblemen, he might have allowed them a freer hand in tax collection. Looked the other way if they robbed the peasantry, that sort of thing, which I used to put Tutankhamun into conflict with Ay, who would have most likely been the mastermind (and in my book, beneficiary) of the tax corruption scheme, based on his titles and responsibilities. If there was corruption reaching to the high levels, there’s no way Ay wouldn’t have known. When Tutankhamun in my book discovered and attempted to correct this injustice, Ay’s personal income became threatened. Just my interpretation with all the freedom of a fiction author! But possible. When one examines Ay’s… presumptions, at the very least… and considers the age of Tutankhamun at death, one can’t help thinking the young Pharaoh began to stretch his wings and immediately bumped into the corruption around him, thus losing his life. A recent report had his death explained by stating that he was on his knees when a chariot struck him. Can you imagine any situation where that might occur, the king kneeling to be struck? More influential to me was the Italian report about the slivers of filigreed and detailed gold in the broken leg, which they decided was armor pushed into the wound after a sword strike. Poor Tutankhamun had a tortuous death either way; his ribcage is missing, perhaps illustrating severely damaged ribs. He endured gas gangrene on the knee and thigh as well, as well as his troublesome left foot finally shattering. In the year I published, my husband flipped our Jeep and it struck his left leg, broke his leg and his left foot and cracked his left knee. He came home from the hospital and 24 hours later, septicemia set in and he had to go back, so I can imagine Tutankhamun’s death. In my mind, these are war wounds. Even if this occurred during a hunting expedition, why would his body have begun to decompose before embalming? Why the extra resins, which imploded after his burial and led to a black mummy that Carter practically had to saw out of the coffin? How far away could Tutankhamun’s “hunting party” have possibly went, that Pharaoh should endure such an unorthodox embalming? The Western Desert hunting grounds would give you a few days AT MOST back into Egypt. Perhaps it was more likely that he was several weeks away from Egypt by land when he died, and during winter, the sea closed? When one considers the huge proportion of martial grave goods, could this not be likely? If you study the grave goods, you see that Tutankhamun lived for war and sport! His most worn with use chariot was absolutely plain, no ceremonial adornment at all. As I said, if this young man in spite of his physical challenges still took the field, he deserves credit.

    In my novel, Ankhesenamun accompanied Tutankhamun to Syria during his last campaign. I patently believe–the only thing in my novel I will say this to–that this did not happen. I envision Ankhesenamun at home in Egypt while Tutankhamun dealt with Suppililiuma’s incursions into his territory, and only one day waking up to find herself a prisoner in her palace. As far as a son goes, why not? Horemhab recycled a statue depicting the Great Royal Wife IN LATE AMARNA STYLE with her son. We know this was not Nefertiti! In my notes, I suggest that if Tutankhamun had a son, he would have been helpless after his father’s death. Ankhesenamun’s letter to the Hittite court could have been shot off after her son had been killed.

    I fear we’ll never know the truth, but the more interest the people have in the matter, the closer we’ll get. The more interest people have, the more likely we’ll find out the truth about what happened to this unhappy royal pair. What I hold to is Tutankhamun’s–at least–obvious love for Ankhesenamun. So many absolutely stunning works of art show them as a devoted couple. Which only makes it more of a tragedy that Ankhesenamun wasn’t depicted in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Hopefully we in the modern world will be able to put together some of the truth, and give this couple some peace!

    I have very few people I can ramble to about my beliefs on an already-published book: it’s all about the next one! I hope I haven’t trespassed on your blog, but these are my theories and beliefs, supported at least in my mind (or heart, in AE) by years of research.

    Best wishes,

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