Queen of Kings
by Maria Dahvana Headley
Genre: Adult Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Mythology
Series: Queen of Kings #1
Source: Won copy from The Secret Writer blog. Thank you!
There’s more than one path to immortality…
A thrilling, chilling reimagining of the story of the most famous woman in history.
Once there was a queen of Egypt…a queen who became through magic something else…
The year is 30 BC. Octavian Caesar and his massed legions are poised to enter Alexandria. A messenger informs Egypt’s queen, Cleopatra, that her beloved Mark Antony has died by his own hand. Desperate to save her kingdom, resurrect her husband and protect all she holds dear, Cleopatra turns to the gods for help. Ignoring the warnings of those around her, she summons Sekhmet, goddess of death and destruction, and strikes a mortal bargain. And not even the wisest of Egypt’s scholar could have predicted what would follow…
For, in return for Antony’s soul, Sekhmet demands something in return: Cleopatra herself. And so Egypt’s queen is possessed. She becomes an immortal, shape-shifting, not-quite-human manifestation of a deity who seeks to destroy the world. Fighting to preserve something of her humanity, Cleopatra pursues Octavian back to Rome: she desires revenge, she yearns for her children…and she craves human blood.
It is a journey that will take her from the tombs of the Pharaohs to the great amphitheatres of imperial Rome and on, to Hell itself where, it seems, the fate of the world will finally be decided.
Blending authentic historical fiction and the darkest of fantasy, Queen of Kings is a spectacular and spellbinding feat of the imagination that fans of Neil Gaiman, Diana Gabaldon, George R.R. Martin, Patricia Briggs, Philippa Gregory, and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator won’t want to miss.
My husband: What’s your book about?
Me: Cleopatra becoming a vampire.
My husband: Oh. So the most likely of scenarios, then.
I am deeply indebted to The Secret Writer blog for holding a giveaway for this book. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have known it existed, or else wouldn’t have tried it out because I tend to stay away from adult fiction (I’m allergic to casual sex – symptoms include cursing, inability to connect with characters and hurling book at the wall), but I’m so so glad I took the chance. I love vampires and I love mythology so I was very curious to see how the author handled the mingling of the two.
Turns out, “vampires” are older than you think! Desperate to save her kingdom (and then the life of her beloved Antony), Cleopatra performs an already-ancient spell to summon the goddess Sekhmet, who appears to be the first vampire. Cursed by her father Ra, the sun god, her skin burns in the light. Goddess of death and Lady of Slaughter, she drinks the blood of her enemies. The goddess sees the potential in Cleopatra, and takes the Queen’s promise of “anything” in exchange for the goddess’ help as an invitation to possess Cleopatra.
In a cruel twist of fate, Antony dies again, and Cleopatra finds herself unable to die. Augustus Octavian suspects that Cleopatra has not truly died, and is coming for him. So he enlists the help of a cast of assorted sorcerers: Usem, leader of the Psylli tribe, assisted by his bride, the Western Wind; Chrysate, priestess of the goddess Hecate; and Auor, a seikona, or fate-spinner, from the unknown north. Octavian and his sorcerers, plus a few other characters, supplement Cleopatra’s narration, and far from being confusing, I felt that this technique truly enriched the narrative and gave the reader a more complete picture of the characters’ motivations and actions. The author even used the dreaded “head-hopping” in a way that was masterful and clear. I loved hearing the perspectives of the other mystical characters, especially Auor. Seikonas should be standard supernatural fare, if you ask me, because they are awesome. Octavian’s love-hate relationship with Cleopatra also adds deeper level to the book. The writing itself is rich and descriptive, but never over-the-top. The historical aspects are meticulously researched and informative in a way that only serves to anchor the story more firmly in reality.
Cleopatra’s struggle to control Sekhmet’s blood-lust in the face of her own anger and agony is fascinating to watch. The reader even comes to understand and sympathize with the dark goddess. Cleopatra’s longing for her children is profound as well, but the emotional heart of the novel is her relationship with Antony and her struggle to be reunited with him. The most beautiful and moving scenes in the book detail Antony and Cleopatra’s journey through the underworld to appeal to Hades and Persephone. The contrast of their love in a landscape of death and despair is gorgeously wrought. The ending is intense and even horrifying, and sets the stage for the next installment. I eagerly await it.
So this is my new thing! Sometimes I will include a theme song for a book I read, one I think fits the story really well. My “theme song” for Queen of Kings is Sahara by Nightwish.
A ballad of a dark queen echoes through night
As he flees the curse of gods, the pharaoh`s wrath.
One thousand one nights unseen,
The philosopher and the queen.
Ancient mariner in a sea of sand,
The burning beauty his tomb to die for…
May he now rest under the aegis of mirage
As the sands slowly turn to Elysian fields.