Child of the Morning (1977)
Author: Pauline Gedge
Pharaoh must be a man. Thothmes I, Pharaoh of Egypt, has a weak willed, carousing son, Thothmes II, who he fears will destroy all that Thothmes I has built if he becomes Pharaoh. He also has a strong, clever, ambitious daughter, Hutshepshut. Thothmes II wants to be Pharaoh for the riches and prestige. He has no interest in affairs of state, military matters or serving the Egyptian people. Hut is interested in these things and wants to be Pharaoh to care for Egypt and its people. Against all custom, her father decides to teach Hut to rule Egypt. She becomes Crown Prince at age 15 and rules until her father dies. Then the politicians and her brother insist that she let her brother become Pharaoh. However, the Pharaoh's blood line runs through the women and to rule Thothmes must marry a royal princess. Thothmes and Hut are half brother and sister and she is the only royal princess. It is typical for such marriages to occur under such circumstances but Hut rebels until Thothmes promises her that she can continue to rule behind the scenes as long as she lets him carry the mantle of Pharaoh. He's not interested in power and is willing to let Hut be Queen and run the country. Without options and no supporters, Hut agrees. Things run smoothly for some time until Thothmes II takes a second wife, a common dancer, who bears him a son. This boy comes of a commoner but could still be Pharaoh if no royal son is born. Hut had not given up her idea of becoming Pharaoh after her husband dies and is not happy about this turn of events. She tries to have a son so that he can become Pharaoh after her. Unfortunately, she has girls, who show no interest in ruling the country. When her husband dies, Hutshepshut declares herself Pharaoh while her stepson is too young to be king. Her advisors recommend that she have the boy and his mother killed but she cannot bring herself to have them murdered. Regardless of anything else, the boy and his mother are family. For 20 years Hutshepshut is a strong, wise ruler who tries to keep her stepson and his ambitious mother at bay while she surrounds herself with a cadre of supporters who are brave, loyal and intelligent men. However, as he grows and unlike his father, Thothmes III becomes a strong, smart, ambitious man who isn't willing to wait until his Aunt dies to follow her as Pharaoh. He believes that Hut stole the throne from him and once he comes of age he wants it. His career in the military puts him in a position to take the throne from his Aunt but first he offers her a deal. Marry him and they will rule together. He has always admired her strength, beauty and intelligence and thinks his Aunt would make a perfect Queen. Again, such pairings were not unusual among the royal families of Egypt. However, Hut rejects his offer because she will not "play second fiddle" to anyone. She will fight to remain Pharaoh. SPOILER: Unfortunately, Thothmes uses his minions to isolate all of Hut's supporters and have them murdered. Alone, Hut is forced from the throne and Thothmes III becomes Pharaoh. Although he allows his Aunt to live for several years, he slowly strips her of all her friends, servants -- anyone she knows or is close to -- and replaces them with his own people. He will not even let her see her nephew, his son, in case she tries to influence the boy against his father. He still fears her and wants to make sure she cannot somehow overthrow him. She tells him he has nothing to fear, that her "house arrest" has sapped her strength and that she no longer wishes to be Pharaoh. She would just like to have a normal life now. Still afraid of Hutshepshut, Thothmes makes arrangements for her to commit suicide. Being a prisoner with no friends and nothing left to live for, Hut cooperates and drinks the poison and dies. A speculative novel of historical characters.
Geographical Setting: Egypt
Time Period: 15th Century B.C.
Series: first published title in the Hera Series
This author has the ability to make readers feel as if they are right there in the scene. Vivid descriptions, whether it is the color and grandeur of Pharaoh's chambers or the spectacle a royal banquet, or a mysterious night on the Nile, let readers easily imagine the sheen of gold and flash of jewels, the scent of food and murmur of conversation, or the wafting of the breeze and the moon shimmering on the water. Exotic locales and settings keep the reader entranced. For the reader who enjoys political machinations and groups seizing power, there is enough to satisfy. There is even a battle scene including the planning and the aftermath for those who like displays of war. Characters are followed over years so that the reader gets to see how they develop.
Read-alikes: Pauline Gedge has written a number of other novels about the kings of Egypt which will satisfy the reader who liked Child of the Morning. Descriptions of a few of these follow. The Twelfth Transforming is about pharaoh Akhenaton who brings Egypt to the edge of ruin which causes a struggle for power with his mother, Queen Tiye, and Horemheb, the leader of the army during the 14th Century B.C. All the same elements are there is a slightly different arrangement: a struggle for the throne, military action, and political disagreements within the royal family. The story is seen mostly through the eyes of Queen Tiye just as Child is seen mostly through the eyes of Queen Hutshepshut which will appeal to those who like the female viewpoint. Lady of the Reeds and House of Illusions also have a female protagonist, although she is not royal she does end up in the royal court and becomes involved in political intrigue. Both books are about the same character, Thu. The first book chronicles her rise from peasant to royal concubine and how she is banished after she falls in with Pharaoh's enemies. The second book follows efforts to defend herself which leads her on a journey back to the royal court where she extricates herself from the situation, is reunited with her son and saves both their lives. Thu is an ambitious woman just as was Hutshepshut, for those who like strong female characters. The other Gedge book, Mirage, is about a male protagonist rather than a female one. Khaemwaset is a son of Pharaoh who is a physician and scholar. From the temple he steals the Scroll of Thoth because it is supposed to make the possessor all powerful. In his search for power he meets and marries the noblewoman Tbubui who also has magic powers. Unfortunately his infatuation with her ruins her family. This book has a dark, suspenseful tone and an unhappy ending, as does Child. For those who could tolerate that, they will find this book interesting. All of these Gedge's books provide the same kind of imaginative settings and glowing descriptions with characters who want more than they have and become involved in struggles to get it. These books are a must read for those who like intrigue in exotic locales and are interested in ancient history, especially Egypt. The other book they might like is called, Kleopatra, by Karen Essex which is a fictionalized account of Cleopatra life and the people surrounding her. It follows the charismatic Cleopatra from childhood, through her exile in Rome with her father, to her rise to the throne. As in Child, this story is filled with intrigue and treachery and filial disloyalty. For readers who like a clever, confident and audacious princess fighting to become rule amid royal excesses and palace conspiracies, as in Child, this novel offers the same theme. Readers who reveled in Gedge's meticulous and colorful descriptions of everything from banquets to religious celebrations in an ancient culture will feel the same amazement as Essex's work. Unlike Child, which focuses only on Egyptian history and culture, Kleopatra introduces the reader to ancient Greek and Roman culture and history.
Red Flags: Incest, murder and suicide. Graphic battle scenes. Human religious sacrifice. SPOILER: About halfway through the book the reader realizes that the main character in whom s/he has become vested will not survive.