7 reviews

The Heretic Queen: A Novel
by Michelle Moran

Published: 2009-09-01
Paperback : 416 pages
21 members reading this now
7 clubs reading this now
8 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 7 of 7 members
In ancient Egypt, a forgotten princess must overcome her family’s past and remake history.

The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the Eighteenth Dynasty’s royal family—all with the exception of Nefertari, the niece of the reviled former ...
No other editions available.
Add to Club Selections
Add to Possible Club Selections
Add to My Personal Queue
Jump to


In ancient Egypt, a forgotten princess must overcome her family’s past and remake history.

The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the Eighteenth Dynasty’s royal family—all with the exception of Nefertari, the niece of the reviled former queen, Nefertiti. The girl’s deceased family has been branded as heretical, and no one in Egypt will speak their names.

A relic of a previous reign, Nefertari is pushed aside, an unimportant princess left to run wild in the palace. But this changes when she is taken under the wing of the Pharaoh’ s aunt, then brought to the Temple of Hathor, where she is educated in a manner befitting a future queen.

Soon Nefertari catches the eye of the Crown Prince, and despite her family’s history, they fall in love and wish to marry. Yet all of Egypt opposes this union between the rising star of a new dynasty and the fading star of an old, heretical one.

While political adversity sets the country on edge, Nefertari becomes the wife of Ramesses the Great. Destined to be the most powerful Pharaoh in Egypt, he is also the man who must confront the most famous exodus in history.

Sweeping in scope and meticulous in detail, The Heretic Queen is a novel of passion and power, heartbreak and redemption.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.



I am sure that if I sat in a quiet place, away from the palace and the bustle of the court, I could remember scenes from my childhood much earlier than six years old. As it is, I have vague impressions of low tables with lion’s-paw feet crouched on polished tiles. I can still smell the scents of cedar and acacia from the open chests where my nurse stored my favorite playthings. And I am sure that if I sat in the sycamore groves for a day with nothing but the wind to disturb me, I could put an image to the sound of sistrums being shaken in a courtyard where frankincense was being burned. But all of those are hazy impressions, as difficult to see through as heavy linen, and my first real memory is of Ramesses weeping in the dark temple of Amun.

I must have begged to go with him that night, or perhaps my nurse had been too busy at Princess Pili’s bedside to realize that I was gone. But I can recall our passage through the silent halls of Amun’s temple, and how Ramesses’s face looked like a painting I had seen of women begging the goddess Isis for favor. I was six years old and always talking, but I knew enough to be quiet that night. I peered up at the painted images of the gods as they passed through the glow of our flickering torchlight, and when we reached the inner sanctum, Ramesses spoke his first words to me.

“Stay here.”

I obeyed his command, and watched from the doors as he approached the towering statue of Amun. The god was illuminated by a circle of lamplight, and Ramesses knelt before the creator of life. My heart was beating so loudly in my ears that I couldn’t hear what he was whispering, but I heard his final words when he cried, “Help her, Amun. She’s only six. Please don’t let Anubis take her away. Not yet!”

There was movement from the opposite door of the sanctum, and the whisper of sandaled feet warned Ramesses that he wasn’t alone. He stood, wiping the tears from his eyes, and I held my breath as a man emerged like a leopard from the darkness. A spotted pelt hung over his shoulders, and his face was as smooth as an embalmer’s mask, which is to say that he might have been forty years old or a hundred, and his left eye was as red as a pool of blood.

“Where is the king?” the High Priest demanded.

Ramesses, who was nine years old, stepped bravely into the circle of lamplight and spoke. “In the palace, Your Holiness. My father won’t leave my sister’s side.”

“Then where is your mother?”

“She…she’s with my sister as well. The physicians say my sister is going to die!”

“So your father sent children to intervene with the gods?”

I understood for the first time why we had come. “But I’ve promised Amun whatever he wants,” Ramesses said desperately. “Whatever shall be mine in my future.”

“And your father never thought to call on me?”

“He has! He’s asked that you come to the palace.” His voice broke. “But do you think that Amun will heal her?”

The High Priest moved across the tiles. “Who can say?”

“But I came on my knees and offered him anything. I did as I was told.”

“You may have,” the High Priest snapped, “but Pharaoh himself has not visited the temple.”

Ramesses took my hand and we followed the hem of the High Priest’s robes into the courtyard. A trumpet shattered the stillness of the night, and when priests appeared in long white cloaks, I thought of the mummified god Osiris. In the darkness, it was impossible to make out their features, but when enough had assembled, the High Priest shouted, “To the palace of Malkata!”

With torch lights before us we swept into the darkness. Our chariots raced through the chill of Mechyr to the River Nile. And when we’d crossed the waters to the steps of the palace, guards ushered our retinue into the hall.

“Where is the royal family?” the High Priest demanded.

“Inside the princess’ bedchamber, Your Holiness.”

The High Priest made for the stairs. “Is she alive?”

When no guard answered, Ramesses broke into a run, and I hurried after him, afraid of being left in the dark halls of the palace.

“Pili!” he cried. “Pili, no! Wait!” He took the stairs two at a time and at the entrance to

Pili’s chamber two armed guards parted for him. Ramesses swung open the heavy wooden doors at the top of the stairs, and stopped. I peered into the dimness. The air was thick with incense, and the queen was bent in mourning. Pharaoh stood by himself in the shadows, away from the single oil lamp that lit the room.

“Pili,” Ramesses whispered. “Pili!” he cried. He didn’t care that it was unbecoming of a prince to weep. He ran to the bed and grasped his sister’s hand. Her eyes were shut, and her small chest no longer shook with cold. I stood in the shadows and the Queen of Egypt let out a violent sob.

“Ramesses, you must instruct them to begin ringing the bells.”

Ramesses looked to his father, as if the Pharaoh of Egypt could reverse death.

Pharaoh Seti nodded. “Go.”

“But I tried!” Ramesses cried. “I begged Amun.”

Seti moved across the room and placed his arm around Ramesses’s shoulders. “I know. And now you must tell them to ring the bells. Anubis has taken her.”

But I could see that Ramesses couldn’t bear to leave Pili alone. She had been fearful of the dark, like I was, and she would be afraid of so much weeping. He hesitated, but his father’s voice was firm.


Ramesses looked down at me, and it was understood that I would accompany him.

In the courtyard, an old priestess sat beneath the twisted limbs of an acacia, holding a small bronze bell in her withered hands. “Anubis will come for us all one day,” she said. The old woman’s breath fogged the cold night.

“Not at six years old!” Ramesses cried. “Not when I begged for her life from Amun.”

The old priestess laughed harshly. “The gods do not listen to children! What great things have you accomplished that Amun should hear you speak? What wars have you won? What monuments have you erected?”

I hid behind Ramesses’s cloak, and neither of us moved.

“Where will Amun have heard your name,” she demanded, “to recognize it amongst so many thousands begging for aid?”

“Nowhere,” I heard Ramesses whisper, and the old priestess nodded firmly.

“If the gods cannot recognize your names,” she warned us, “they will never hear your prayers.”


  view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. Although the novel is called The Heretic Queen, Nefertari is not a heretic. So why did the author choose this title for the book? Has there ever been a time when you were accused of being something you’re not? Or a time when you were unfairly persecuted?

2. The young, wild, and carefree Nefertari is very different in the beginning of the novel than at the end. Why? How does she change, and what brings these changes about? Does being an orphan force her to grow up faster?

3. When Nefertari weds her childhood sweetheart, Ramesses II, the people of Egypt fear that she will be made Chief Wife and bring her aunt’s heretical policies back to Egypt. Is there a just reason for their fear? If so, why? If not, then why do they feel this way?

4. Why does Iset fear Nefertari? Is it jealousy alone or something more? How do Nefertari’s feelings toward Iset evolve throughout the novel?

5. In the novel, Ramesses is portrayed with red hair, similar to the Egyptian god Set. Were you surprised to learn that Egyptians were so ethnically diverse? Why or why not?

6. In what ways is Ramesses a master at public relations? Are the portrayals of himself on the Wall of Proclamation accurate? If not, why would he deceive his people?

7. When Ramesses charges into battle at Kadesh without waiting for the rest of his troops, the act nearly costs him the kingdom of Egypt. In what other ways is Ramesses seen to be rash throughout the novel? When does his rashness cost him? Is he capable of change? Why or why not?

8. The character of Ahmoses is meant to allude to the figure of Moses in the Bible. Aside from their names, what are the other similarities between the two? Is Ahmoses a heretic? Why do the people of Egypt believe so?

9. Women enjoyed great freedom in ancient Egypt, much more so than in any other contemporary kingdom. In what ways do women show surprising autonomy and power in this novel?

10. What happens to Iset? Do you think she achieves happiness? What about Nefertari?

Suggested by Members

Who was your favorite character (other than Nefertari) and why?
by chkahn12 (see profile) 07/09/10

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Perhaps I would never have chosen to write on Nefertari at all if I hadn't taken a trip to Egypt and seen her magnificent tomb. At one time, visiting her tomb was practically free, but today, that same trip underground cost upwards of five thousand dollars (yes, you read that right). As a guide told us of the phenomenal price, I looked at my husband, and he looked at me. What were the possibilities of our ever returning to Egypt again? There was only one choice. We paid the outrageous price, and I have never forgotten the experience.

While breathing in some of the most expensive air in the world (I figured it was about $20 a gulp), I saw a tomb that wasn't just fit for a queen, but a goddess. In fact, Nefertari was only one of three queens ever deified in her lifetime, and as I gazed at the vibrant images on the walls, I knew that this wasn't just any woman, but a woman who had been loved fiercely when she was alive. Because I am a sucker for romances, particularly if those romances actually happened, I immediately wanted to know more about Nefertari and Ramesses the Great. My novel, The Heretic Queen, explores their love story, and I hope you enjoy learning about them as much as I did!

Book Club Recommendations

by chkahn12 (see profile) 07/09/10
Our hostess had wonderful food. Chicken wings with Pomegranite sauce, frozen Pomegranite martinis, big chunks of cheese, shrimp dish w/avacado, mango, etc. Chocolate covered macadamia nuts. Veggie tray, ham rolls, pear slices w/panchetta/honey/feta

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Makicisa B. (see profile) 08/31/18

  "Heretic Queen---"by Laura G. (see profile) 08/01/10

This was the sequel to Nerftiti. It was an amazing love story with all the historic details you come to expect from Michelle Moran.

  "Loved It!"by Carrie K. (see profile) 07/09/10

Our bookclub read Nefertiti last year and enjoyed learning about Egyptian history through the book. It didn't feel like homework and you could really picture how these people lived. This b... (read more)

  "The Heretic Queen"by Wendy M. (see profile) 07/09/10

Don't let the title fool you; this queen is anything but heretic. She is awesome. I love the Michelle Moran books and I love the fact that this book is so different from her first book, Nefertiti. Great... (read more)

  "Herectic Queen"by Joanne J. (see profile) 07/09/10

This was a great book. We had read Nefertiti and decided to read this one, although you don't have to read Nefertiti it understand Heretic Queen. The story was great and different from the other book.... (read more)

  "The Heretic Queen"by Bonnie R. (see profile) 06/23/10

Once I got past the names, I loved this book!!!! It was a beautiful love story that showed that good does overcome evil. The final chapters were action packed, and it was beautifully written.

  "Heretic Queen"by sarah C. (see profile) 03/18/10

  "The Heretic Queen"by Nell D. (see profile) 03/18/10

The book was slow to get into and a little confusing with the characters relationships and names, but once I got into it, I found it interesting and the pace picked up.

  "I couldn't put it down!"by Lisa F. (see profile) 04/11/09

I enjoyed reading this book so much. My month to pick a book for our book club isn't until November and I couldn't wait that long to read it. Now I've got to give the rest of the club the book to read... (read more)

  "A great read!"by Sue B. (see profile) 03/19/09

We were fortunate to have the author call in during our meeting and really enjoyed talking to her.

Rate this book
Remember me

Now serving over 80,000 book clubs & ready to welcome yours. Join us and get the Top Book Club Picks of 2022 (so far).


Get free weekly updates on top club picks, book giveaways, author events and more
Please wait...