Saturday, December 4, 2010

#6 Historical Fiction: Hatshepsut: Female Pharaoh (BAKER'S DOZEN AGENT AUCTION)

TITLE: Hatshepsut: Female Pharaoh
GENRE: Historical Fiction

Amid foreign wars and a palace coup, tormented by her love of a commoner and cursed with personal tragedies, Hatshepsut challenges history to proclaim herself Egypt's first female Pharaoh.

Her sister was dead.

Hatshepsut reached out to touch a clump of papyrus reeds as the skiff bobbed its way across the Nile. The morning was still cool enough; Re's scorching heat had not yet wrung the sweat from her pores. The rowers gave a hippo wide berth, but the lazy river cow only yawned before submerging itself below the silty waters. Hatshepsut's eyes burned with the tears she had shed at Neferubity's tomb, but donkeys brayed and children laughed as the boat neared the East Bank. Life continued here in Egypt's capital, despite Neferubity's absence from this world. The rowers--young men scarcely clad in loincloths--grunted as they tied up the royal barque. One almost tripped in his haste to help her onto the dock.


Even though she hadn't heard it in almost two years, she knew that voice.

Her brother. And future husband.

Thutmosis had been in Canaan on a military campaign with their father for the past two years and wasn't expected back for several months. Soon--too soon--Hatshepsut would become his Great Royal Wife. The title should have gone to Neferubity; would have, had her sister not passed to the Field of Reeds. Now Hatshepsut's greatest responsibility in this life was to marry Thutmosis and bear Egypt's future heir. The thought made her wish she could trade places with her sister. Hatshepsut was shocked as her brother hobbled toward her, leaning on an ivory walking cane. His lips pursed every time he put weight on his right foot.


  1. The logline is a little confusing. When you throw the conflict in like a description of the main character, you are washing it down. I had to read this a few times to figure out what actually happens.

    As for the excerpt, the whole marrying/having children with your brother thing makes my stomach turn. I realize you want us to feel for her but you have to be careful you don't scare readers off. We need to want to go on her journey and I don't want to go on a journey that involves incest. I'm not sure what to suggest here. Maybe you need to get us attached to her in another way before you give this information.

  2. I didn't have any problem with the logline-- I think it's incredibly concise.

    Re: Previous Comment
    In ancient Egypt, the pharaohs almost ALWAYS married their siblings in order to keep the power in the family. You can't really write about ancient Egypt dynastic anything without it or you lose all historical legitimacy.

    The only suggestion I have for the pages is you have two sentences in the first paragraph that follow the same kind of construction:
    "The rowers gave the hippo... but..." and then "Hatshepsut's eyes burned.... but..." in a row, which I might change.

    I love the detail of the rower nearly tripping, and the Hippo submerging below the water. Great atmosphere!

  3. I'm not a fan of historical fiction, but I thought you were able to give us a lot of information in the log line, which is hard to do. I liked the writing--great descriptions, but I'm with Holly on the incest. This might be part of why I don't read historical, the customs/traditions are too hard for me to relate to.

  4. I have to agree that I'd like to get to know Hatshepsut a little more before we're hit with the fact that she has to marry her brother.

    I found the first paragraph wonderfully atmospheric - nice description. Not crazy about "Hatshepsut was shocked as her brother hobbled toward her" - the phrasing is awkward.

    I would love to see a more exciting title, too - while this title is straightforward, it sounds like nonfiction.

  5. I've seen this before but I still like it. Hatshepsut has always been my favorite Pharao. The scene is vivid and the details well selected. Of course, it is unsettling to have the incest theme right on the first page but that's just the way those times were. I would suggest moving it soemwhere else if this were a YA novel but I think grownups can cope with it.

  6. I really like this one. As someone said before, it is wonderfully atmospheric. I haven't read a historical set in Egypt for ages (and Egyptian fiction isn't something I'd go picking out), but I'd definitely pick this one up.

    I'm not unsettled by the suggestions of incest at all, since the logline states that she's in love with a commoner - and the last paragraph pretty much sets up how unattrative the MC finds her brother. Intention's half the crime right? *shrug*

  7. Ivae, nice catch on the conflict there between her heart and her country's demands. I think the reason more people don't read historicals is the facts of life at that point.

    I think you use those facts well to show that regardless of the custom of the day, it was not what even the Royals necessarily wanted.

    Wonderful atmosphere :D

  8. While I love the vivid writing in this, I had trouble with the logline; I felt it needed more personal conflict and stakes.

    In the sample, I felt like the last two sentences (beginning "Hatshepsut was shocked...") needed to be a new paragraph, since the subject had shifted.

  9. I enjoyed this, and would read more. I'm not bothered by the need to marry her brother - partly from familiarity with the custom and partly because it's clear from the writing that Hatshepsut doesn't want to marry him - which suggests she might try to find a way not to. That's conflict and I'd read on.

    The writing does a good job of putting a reader in the scene, and I like the parallel between the MC touching reeds at the start and her sister's journey to the Field of Reeds (underworld) - that was nicely done.

  10. I studied archaeology and have always been fascinated with Hatshepsut, so thumbs up for content! ^_^

    I actually found the long descriptions lost me. It just somehow felt disconnected--I didn't really feel like I was inside Hatshepsut's thoughts. She's suffering from Neferubity's death...that's more prominant to me than a hippo in the water (although that's a nice touch, but maybe after that emotional connection's been made).

    The best part of this to me was the "Her brother. And future husband." line because there's the conflict right there. And if I'd connected more emotionally with Hatshepsut, I would've felt even more pity for her (although in those days that was common so I'm not sure how she would feel about it).

  11. What a unique topic! (Egyptian history) There's certainly not a glut of that on the market. :)

    I liked the way you contrasted the activity and laughter of the world around her with the stillness of death and grief. That was effective in using the setting details to enhance her grief to us. Nice.

    The question that came to my mind was why she didn't want to marry her brother. I assumed it was the accepted thing and there was no taboo against it in the culture so she wouldn't necessarily find it abhorrent like we would. I thought there must be some other reason why she was reluctant, but there was no hint given.

    I think it's a good start. I'd read it!

  12. Logline:
    (You had me at the title; I adore Egyptology, and this is a subject I'm very interested in.)

    Line comments:
    -Great first line
    -"One almost tripped in his haste to help her onto the dock" <--That confused me. Who is "her"? ...I re-read and realized that Hatshpsut was in the boat with the body of her sister; so much description of the bank had made me think she was standing on the bank.
    -While royal incest was common in Ancient Egypt, you might want to have some sort of lead-up to it for modern readers. I didn't mind it as I know the history, but I can see how some would balk at it.

    I know what Hatshepsut *doesn't* want--to marry her brother--but I'm curious as to what she *does* want. But this is an incredibly intriguing subject that I would be interested to read.

  13. I think this first page is fantastic, great description. I think the logline could do with a little more detail about 'the commoner' and 'personal tragedies' and I have to confess I really don't like the title, it makes it sound like a text book.

  14. I just read an article in today's paper about Cleopatra being married to her brother at 13. I thought this was good and different.I like strong women protags.

  15. Logline - I liked this very much. It was short, concise and opens the door to a very interesting story.

    Excerpt - I had no issues with the fact that you introduce a marriage between the siblings so quickly. That is simply historical fact and you can't write accurate historical fiction concerning ancient Egypt any other way.

    You seamlessly set us firmly in the time and place. It's not the sun, it's Re. It's not the heaven, it's the Field of Reeds. For me, these little details really cemented the writing. I like the little bits of description that set the scene as well, from the details of the Nile to life around Hatshepsut.

    A very strong beginning. Good luck!

  16. Would a half brother be more palatable to readers? Personally, I don't have a problem because it's historical fiction -- and that's what was expected. I agree with one commenter who asked why she'd not want to marry her brother if it was customary? I'd be interested in how her own beliefs were shaped -- did she think it was morally wrong? I'd want to read more pages.

  17. Logline - seems kind of vague, but on the other hand, I do get a sense of what will happen and where it will go. Still, it's only a sense.

    Excerpt - It starts with her sister's death (which is a nice opening) but then it immediately jumps to setting. Perhaps rearrange that second paragraph. Start with her eyes burning and continue through 'life continued' then jump back to the first half of the parg. After the hippos submerge, have the rowers tie up the boat. This way, she has the thoughts about her sister's death right after she says her sister died.

    The Thutmosis parg. is straight telling. What it does here is stop the story (taking the reader out of it) so you can explain. I'm just getting settled into ancient Egypt, and then you say, "Oh, wait a minute. Let me explain this part." We can learn all that through dialogue and action as the story progresses.

    I thought the incest was a non-issue. We're dealing with a piece of fiction, not real life.

  18. Logline - loved it, but I'm an Egypt buff so I didn't have a problem following it.

    A few small nits on the prose. The word loincloth always makes me think Tarzan. What did the Egyptians call this clothing? I'd use another word that evokes more of the setting and time period. Also, I think the point others were making about the incest is that it's on page one. Yes, it was a staple of ancient Egypt and it can't be avoided, but having it so at the forefront of this story will turn many readers off. Give us a few pages with Hatshepsut, let us fall in love with her as a character. That way, we'll be too compelled to put the book down even when the possible incest comes into play, and we'll feel more of an emotional impact at this. Quite honestly, I'd start with the commoner. If she's on her boat, mourning her sister, and sees this love on the banks, walking beside her boat, she could wish to be with him. Wish she could let the commoner comfort her in her time of loss. That's probably a better, less incestuous hook than bringing in her brother right away; a few pages later you could explain why she can't go with her love because of the arranged marriage. Just a thought...


  20. I'm not really hooked. I've read a number of books that play in this time period (and play *with* the time period, putting Hatshepsut anywhere within a thousand years) and the voice just doesn't feel strong enough to stand out for me. It feels like we move too quickly from the sister's death to meeting the brother, as well. It also makes me wonder about worldbuilding and culture: why would a royal heir meet someone at the docks personally? Wouldn't it be beneath him?

    However, it *is* an interesting situation to play with (though from my understanding of Hatshepsut, she had to declare herself to be male to be able to become pharaoh, so it might be a little inaccurate to say that she proclaims *herself* Egypt's first female Pharaoh. My understanding--which is based on a limited number of books so I defer to superior knowledge--is that she wasn't even discovered to have been female for millennia, and her records were purged by the pharaohs after her.

    But as I said, I could be wrong. And playing with history is always tough because you want it to reflect the historical time period while at the same time appealing to a modern audience. As others on the thread have noted, that's tough to do with her having to marry her sibling (which I'm pretty sure Egyptian nobility didn't believe to be incest, making the cultural divide wider).

    But all those issues can be tossed aside if I care about the character and the voice hooks me, but I'm afraid it didn't this time.