Spotlight is my weekly feature in which I highlight a book I’m really looking forward to or really enjoyed. This time around it’s a book I absolutely loved: Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh by Katie Hamstead.
When Naomi’s sisters are snatched up to be taken to be wives of the erratic Pharaoh, Akhenaten, she knows they won’t survive the palace, so she offers herself in their place. The fearsome Commander Horemheb sees her courage, and knows she is exactly what he is looking for…
The Great Queen Nefertiti despises Naomi instantly, and strips her of her Hebrew lineage, including her name, which is changed to Kiya. Kiya allies herself with Horemheb, who pushes her to greatness and encourages her to make the Pharaoh fall in love with her. When Akhenaten declares Kiya will be the mother of his heir, Nefertiti, furious with jealousy, schemes to destroy Kiya.
Kiya must play the deadly game carefully. She is in a silent battle of wills, and a struggle for who will one day inherit the crown. If she does bear an heir, she knows she will need to fight to protect him, as well as herself, from Nefertiti who is out for blood.
This is Katie Hamstead’s first book, but since she was writing about my favourite historical period (ancient Egypt) I had incredibly high expectations for her. It’s a testament to her writing that she exceeded them all.
There were some historically questionable theories, but most of it was either a plausible way to fill in gaps in the historical record or the actual events that were occurring at the time. Katie Hamstead had quite a bit of leeway here because very, very little is known about Kiya, who is supposedly the mother of the famous Tutankhamun. (To be truthful, we don’t even know that for sure.) Still, the details of ancient Egyptian life were correct and her portrayal of historical figures felt spot-on.
Part of what makes historical fiction so hard to write is the fact that you have to do so much research in order to tackle famous figures. You have to not only get the details of their lives right (or mostly right), you have to decide what angle to portray them from. For example, Akhenaten was not the usual unstable despot, but a very kind and loving, but slightly unstable man. Or take Horemheb, who is both ruthless and very compassionate toward Kiya’s plight. Katie Hamstead could have easily gone with the stone-cold army commander angle with Horemheb, but she chose to go deeper and make the man more complicated.
What really made Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh such a great book, however, was Kiya/Naomi herself. She carried the whole thing on her shoulders and had she been one of those horribly whiny narrators I would have beat my head against my desk. We’re trapped in her point of view for the entire story, but because Naomi is such a resourceful, compassionate young woman, that’s actually a good thing!
If you love history, romance and especially ancient Egypt, you will adore Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh.