Friday, June 6, 2014

Sovereign of Stars

Let me say immediately that the title of this post is not mine. It is in fact the title of the third book in Libbie Hawker’s (L. M. Ironside’s) The She-King, a four-part series about Hatshepsut of Egypt. It’s a great title, and this post is about Libbie and her books, so I am stealing it, with acknowledgment but otherwise without a qualm.

You may not be expecting a post announcing another New Books in Historical Fiction (NBHF) interview just yet. Since I began conducting these interviews in November 2012, I have posted regularly around the middle of each month. But as I mention in the podcast (and elsewhere on this blog), that’s about to change. Libbie has agreed to join me as a co-host for NBHF, beginning in early July. So from now on, new conversations will appear on the Web and in your podcast app (if you subscribe) every couple of weeks.

It’s hard to escape the news that self-publishing, writers’ cooperatives, and other types of small groups taking advantage of CreateSpace, Lulu, Kindle Direct Publishing, Nook Press, the iBookstore, and various other publishing platforms open to anyone with a computer and the skills to produce the appropriate files have grown rapidly in the last few years. In 2011, when I first considered rewriting The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel as an experiment in small-group publishing, I knew only one other writer who had taken that route. That was about the time when Libbie released The Sekhmet Bed (The She-King: Book 1). As she explains in the interview, that timing really worked for her in terms of attracting attention in what was then a much smaller field. As a result, she managed to get enough traction with that first book that she has recently quit her job to write full-time—an achievement that few self-published authors and, in fact, few historical novelists can claim.

The main focus of the interview, though, is on ancient Egypt, as it appears in The She-King series and in reality, to the extent we can determine a reality that is now more than 3,500 years in the past. As you may have guessed from my posts about Elizabeth Peters, “Crocodiles, Mummies, Ramses, and More” and “The Sands of Time,” I love books set in ancient Egypt, especially the reign of Hatshepsut, who distinguished herself by being one of the few women to rule not as a queen but as pharaoh. In richly detailed prose, this series presents lively and believable characters facing compelling problems in pursuit of a goal that is at once historical and modern: the drive of a young woman to reach a pinnacle of power appropriate to her ability rather than settle for the constraints imposed on her by birth.

Listen to the interview. Read Libbie’s books. And friend or follow us on social media to learn about our new biweekly interviews as soon as they go live. You can find my links under the “About Me” tab and to the right. Hers are available on her website.

The rest of this post is abridged (to avoid duplication) from the New Books in Historical Fiction site.

Egypt in the Eighteenth Dynasty seems both impossibly distant in time and disconcertingly present. Over 250 years, the dynasty produced several of the rulers best known to modern Western culture: Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti, Tutankhamen (Tut), and Hatshepsut, the most famous of the handful of women who ruled Egypt as pharaoh.

The Sekhmet Bed begins a few years before Hatshepsut’s birth, with the death of Pharaoh Amenhotep I in 1503 BCE. He leaves two daughters, Mutnofret and Ahmose, to marry—and therefore legitimate—the next pharaoh. The marriage surprises neither of them, but in an unexpected twist the thirteen-year-old Ahmose is proclaimed Great Royal Wife while her older sister has to settle for second place. Mutnofret does not take her perceived demotion lying down, and she uses her greater maturity to seduce the pharaoh. She is soon fulfilling the main obligation of a queen: to bear royal sons. But Ahmose, a visionary, has the ear of the gods—the reason she received the title of Great Royal Wife in the first place. And the gods will decide whether Ahmose or her sister will bear the next pharaoh.

Libbie Hawker brings this long-gone but fascinating period alive in a tale of two sisters forced into conflict by the need to secure an empire and a dynasty.

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