I’ll have to admit that I danced around this series for a long time. It has popped up in my Amazon and Goodreads suggestions since I started reading historical fiction, and I’ve always been like, “Yep, I’m going to read that… Oh look, a pretty butterfly.”
So what changed? I’d been reading a lot of YA fantasy and contemporary, and missed HF. And as soon as I went on the hunt for another series, The Sekhmet Bed popped up again in my suggestions… but with FANCY NEW COVERS.
I wish I could tell you I was propelled by more than gorgeous book covers, but… nope. If you’ve ever found yourself reading The Selection series, you know the lure of a pretty cover. They’re an author’s number one marketing tool for a reason.
And as mentioned before, the new Sekhmet Bed covers are gorgeous.
The Sekhmet Bed is about Ahmose, a girl of about 13 and princess of Waset (Thebes). She is gods-chosen as she reads dreams with incredible accuracy. When her father (the king) dies, it is expected that a male relative will be put on the Horus Throne and married to Ahmose’s striking older sister, Mutnofret. However, this isn’t to be. Because of her astonishing abilities, Ahmose is chosen as the new queen instead of her older sister, and is to marry an amazing (if common-born) soldier, Thutmose. Yep, Thutmose the First. Bring on the catfights.
Firstly, Libbie Hawkers’ descriptions are incredible. I should marvel at how she described the time period, the foliage, and the beautiful clothing of Waset, but I really loved how she described the foods. I was starving every time these people had a feast.
I also enjoyed the care she took to weed out the Greek and Roman influences on our understanding of ancient Egypt. For example, she didn’t call Waset Thebes purposefully, nor did she call many of the gods by their Greek names. She even referred to the Nile as Iteru. She rarely used the word Pharaoh (a French word) and instead used king, and made a note about it in her author’s text. One of the few concessions she made was to use Horus for the Horus Throne. I’ve rarely seen a historical fiction writer stay this true to detail of the time period, and I appreciated it. There’s also a great index in the back of the book if you want to know more about the terms and their meanings.
Like all historical fiction writers, Libbie also had to weave entertainment, history and educated guesses. I don’t know much about Thutmose’s line aside from Hatshepsut, the juggernaut female pharaoh of the dynasty (and only female pharaoh until Cleopatra the Seventh- another line, another story).
I strangely appreciated how Hatshepsut was alluded to, but didn’t appear until later in the book. I still don’t know if the series is about Hatshepsut or about the entire line, and I’m not going to Google and spoil it for myself. This book did feel like some sort of prequel.
Back to the story. It’s still really creepy to think of a 20-something (Thutmose) marrying a 13 year-old and her 15 year-old sister, something you have to deal with a lot in HF. Most of your female protagonists in antiquity face arranged marriages at the ages of 12-14.
It’s hard to imagine that someone that young could be facing such a moment. When I was 13, I was shopping at Claire’s and watching The Famous Jett Jackson. But ancient customs were completely different, there was no such thing as an adolescence (or student loan debt that pushes you into extended adolescence), and old age was 30-40. Really.
Plot wise, after the first huge events (new pharaoh, new queen, new second wife), Thutmose (or Tut as Ahmose affectionately calls him…not to be confused with Tutankhamun) leaves the kinda-quietly-warring sisters to go on a big military campaign. Naturally, they try to kill each other while he’s gone.
I’ve come across this plotline a lot in HF, especially when there is a powerful, female lead. Still, I wouldn’t really call it a trope. Power for women in these times generally came three ways: religion (priestess), marriage (queen), or childbirth (King’s Mother).
For this section of the book, we watch the dynamic rivalry between the first and second wives unfold. They fret and fight about bearing a son the fastest, about who can capture the king’s heart so he’ll make their kids heir. That sort of thing.
Ahmose’s sister Mutnofret is the standard beautiful, hot-tempered and on most days mean-girl antagonist. She plays it well.
I thought Libbie gave her measures of growth and depth that kept her from being flat, and her character did what she was supposed to do to move the story along. If we didn’t have her, Ahmose’s million thoughts would be the story’s antagonist. Yikes.
My favorite character was Ineni, Ahmose’s steward. Skip these next paragraphs if you want to avoid spoilers. I liked him for Ahmose. He was a great friend and a sensitive soul to match her own, scholarly where she was spiritually intelligent. I liked him way more for her than Tut, who was more suited for Mutnofret personality-wise.
If Ahmose was living in a different age, I would have wanted her to ride off into the sunset with Ineni and live some sort of brainiac, artistic life together.
I imagine their household would have had record players for a purer sound. Magazines, books, and encyclopedias would be strewn everywhere. Ahmose would have had a big front porch with an easel to paint, because she gave me the spiritual artsy-fartsy vibe.
But no, Tut caught them. Well, Mutnofret suspected them and told their (still creepy to write their in this instance) husband on her. Then, though he was the king of pretty much the world, he just sends Ineni away after giving Ahmose a stern talking to. It was nice that Ineni didn’t get beheaded or something, but I thought more may have happened here. It came off a little anti-climatic, but maybe I’m just one for the drama.
Or maybe Tut was just a saint. Go Tut!
Ahmose also does some shady things to her mother and grandmother (but the Slytherin in me was kind of like meh to her terrible deeds) until we start to slip into the last portions of the book.
Finally Tut is back home to set ish right, Ahmose and Mutnofret get their lives together, Ahmose steps into her role as queen and has a baby girl, Hatshepsut. The end of the book deals with Ahmose predicting how Hatshepsut must be made heir instead of her brothers, how the gods react (here the book begins to take on some of the fantastical elements I love in literature), and essentially sets us up for book two.