Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Queen of Kings – review

Author: Maria Dahvana Headley

Published: 2011

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Once there was a queen of Egypt… a queen who became through magiuc something else…

What if Cleopatra didn’t commit suicide beside her beloved husband, Mark Antony, in 30 BC? What if she couldn’t die? What if she became immortal?

A dazzling debut novel, Queen of Kings tells how a queen’s desire to protect all she holds dear – the soul of her dead husband, her children, her kingdom – leads her to make a mortal bargain with a god. And how not even the wisest of Egypt’s scholars could have foretold what would follow…

For her help, Sekhmet, the goddess of death and destruction, demands something in return: Cleopatra herself. Transformed into a mythic, shape-shifting, not-quite-human manifestation of a deity who seeks to destroy the world, Cleopatra desires revenge, longs for her loved ones… and craves human blood.

Blending historical fiction and the darkest of fantasy, Maria Dahvana Headley’s extraordinary reimagining of the story of perhaps the most famous woman in history is a spellbinding feat of the imagination.

The review: Queen of Kings is certainly an unusual vampire story but, in real terms, a vampire story it is. For a start off the vampire is Cleopatra, however the way Headley sets this up has a logical sense. Indeed the ultimate fate of all the historical characters within the book are pretty much as happened (as pointed out in the historical notes at the end of the book)… it is just that the road to them is very, very different. In this way the book manages to dovetail with historical thinking – but then fills the ancient world with the myths, monsters, Gods and witches that classical mythology would have within that setting.

The result is a fantasy novel par excellence, with a real world setting, well-built and believable characters and Cleopatra as a vampire – her soul sold to the goddess Sekhmet and her body (undead as it is) a physical manifestation of and link to the Goddess.

Many of the normal vampire rules apply. Silver burns (not explained, but presumably due to purity), sunlight burns (as Ra exiled his daughter) and blood must be drunk, which strengthens Cleopatra and serves as a sacrifice to Sekhmet. Cleopatra can shapeshift – a giant snake and a lion are two of the forms she takes. Fire, however, does not destroy her – as Sekhmet is a daughter of Ra she is born of fire – and Cleopatra’s control of animals is wider than the control that other vampires might have had in stories, encompassing most beasts.

The story was well written, and a great read. Recommended. 8 out of 10.


Margaret said...

Just finished this one! It was one I had been wanting to read ever since I read your review of it last fall, and saw the glowing recommendation Neil Gaiman (one of my favorite authors) had for it. I was not disappointed! While the novel was not without flaws, it was still one of the best vampire books I have read thus far, and a thrilling and epic fantasy story. It didn't have the depth of character as some other books of the genre I've read have, and I can't say it was particularly profound, but it had great use of mythology and was so much fun! Thanks for your great review, it is one I might have just passed over otherwise and I am so glad I didn't! Really enjoyed this one!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

glad you enjoyed it Margaret