The Sekhmet Bed

by Lavender Ironside


Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

The Sekhmet Bed by Lavender Ironside The Sekhmet Bed, first in a planned trilogy about the female pharaoh Hatshepsut, focuses on Hatshepsut's mother Ahmose, chief wife of Pharaoh Thutmose I, who ruled Egypt from 1506-1493 B.C. This early period of Egyptian history is sparsely documented, so uncertainty reigns. Thutmose's mother was a commoner; his father is unrecorded. Neither of Ahmose's parents are known; she was given the title "King's Sister," which might imply Thutmose was her brother if "sister" had not been a typical endearment husbands used for their wives.

In this tale, Ahmose is a pharaoh's daughter, Thutmose a common man's son who has risen because of his military prowess. When fourteen-year-old Ahmose's family selects Thutmose to become the next pharaoh, he must be legitimized in the eyes of the priesthood and the people by marrying royally. Ahmose is a "god-chosen" dream interpreter and her elder sister's temper is volatile, so Ahmose is chosen to become Thutmose's Great Royal Wife, while her sexy sister becomes Second Wife. Jealousy is inevitable. Ahmose resents Thutmose's obvious delight in her sister's physical charms, even while she fears the marriage bed and the dangerous prospect of childbirth. Her sister resents Ahmose's higher official status. Born late in the novel, Hatshepsut figures in most of it only because Ahmose and Thutmose have prophetic dreams about their unborn heir which seem contradictory, creating further tension in their relationship.

Characters and scenes are generally vivid and engaging, although the writing and storytelling can be uneven. The ancient Egyptian concept of the ka is particularly well conveyed, so readers grasp how impressive it is for Hatshepsut to have nine kas, only one of them female. On the other hand, anachronisms like the use of "cat" as an insult (Egyptians revered cats) can be jarring, some scenes slip into melodrama, and abrupt personality changes by a few characters undercut credibility. The chief delights of The Sekhmet Bed are its lively descriptions and brisk pacing, considerable compensation for its flaws. (2011; 274 pages, including a prefatory Historical Note separating history from fiction)

More about The Sekhmet Bed at Amazon.com


Other novels about Hatshepsut:

Child of the Morning by Pauline Gedge (1977). See review or more info at Powell's Books

Pharaoh by Eloise Jarvis McGraw (1958). More info

King and Goddess by Judith Tarr (1996). More info

Hatshepsut: Daughter of Amun by Moyra Caldecott (1989). More info


Nonfiction about Hatshepsut:

Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh by Catharine H. Roehrig (2005), lavishly illustrated with photographs of artifacts and archaeological sites. More info

Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh by Joyce A. Tyldesley (1996), a biography. More info


Online:

Hatshepsut: The King Herself, an article by Chip Brown and photographer Kenneth Garrett in the April 2009 National Geographic Magazine


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