It was the Hunger Games that started my current reading jubilee. I read the trilogy in under a week, and am now going through it a second time, reading it aloud to Luke. But reading the same books twice isn't quite satisfying when you're in the reading zone. So I picked up a book that had been sitting on my shelf for probably three or four months (if not more): The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran. I'd picked it up from the bargain section of Chapters because I'd read one of her other books, Nefertiti. I loved the latter, so I figured I would love the other one, but I wasn't in the right "mood" for it at the time (just like I picked up To Kill a Mockingbird, hated it, picked it up a year later, and absolutely loved it). I guess I was in a better mindset for it, because I zipped through it, reading late into the night, and immediately put in a hold at the library for one of her other books, Cleopatra's Daughter.
I will admit I am usually skeptical of historical fiction. It usually takes that one slip up that turns me off completely, and I can't read any further. Now, I don't mean artistic liberties, because when it comes to writing about actual historical figures, particularly from ancient times, you absolutely have to. I mean, you wouldn't have much of a book if you confined yourself to only what is known "for sure". What I mean by slip ups, is when someone in Victorian London says, "Wow, that's so cool!" Just...no.
I think Michelle Moran gets a lot of flack for taking artistic liberties. At least, that's what I've gathered from reviews I've read on her books. I think she does it well though, and she makes a point of mentioning in a historical note at the end of the book the key things that she changed and why. It's kind of like how I've always wanted to write a story from the perspective of King Tut's wife, Ankhesenamun, after Tut's death. If I'm writing a book that's meant to be dramatic, suspenseful, and borderline thriller, am I going to go with the accepted theory that Tut died from infection caused by a broken leg, or the more exciting murder theory? Frankly guys, I'm going to go with the murder, but I'm not going to walk around pretending like that is definitely what happened. I also detest when readers try to thrust their 21st century feminist agendas on historical fiction. Please don't whine about the fact that Nefertari, the heroine of Heretic Queen, is in competition with Iset to win the affections and favour of Pharaoh Ramesses II, because that's how it was. Can we not just read things in context?!
I wouldn't go so far as to say this is the best that contemporary literature has to offer. But I will say that for popular lit, it's pretty darn good, and I love the life she brings to these truly fascinating women of the ancient world. managed to get me totally obsessed with Ancient Egypt and Rome all over again (this happens about once or twice a year, and has since I was about eight). It makes me glad that I've invested in a few non-fiction books on the subject too. But I'm afraid soon I'll be making a departure from the ancient world, in favour of Moran's novel about Madame Tussaud. Exciting!