Coffey’s debut historical novel traces the lives and events during the 18th dynasty of Egypt from the time of Pharaoh Amenhotep to Ramesses.
Machiavellian intrigue is mere child’s play compared to what went on in ancient Egypt. Rival gods, powerful priests, opium addiction, jealousy, war, incest, pederasty, summary executions, unchecked ambition, and spying from behind curtains are just a few of the royal shenanigans in this epic envisioning of Pharaonic Egypt. Coffey has a knack for turning historical figures (even those with unpronounceable names) into living people the reader can love, hate, or feel ambivalent about. The story opens with the two sons of Amenhotep—Tuthmosis and Teppy. They are mischievous and rely on each other to navigate the strange world of adults. Teppy is shy, deformed, and plagued by nightmares; his brother, strong, brazen, and protective of Teppy. Their mother, the ever-scheming Queen Tiye, defies her husband and sends Tuthmosis to the Nubian front, where after saving his father, he is killed. Tiye maneuvers Teppy onto the throne after the death of Amenhotep. Teppy becomes Pharaoh Akhenaten, marries Nefertiti, and leaves the god Amun’s city of Thebes to found a new capital, Amarna, under the god Aten. They give birth to King Tut, who is forced to return to Thebes after the death of his parents and whose own death paves the way to the 19th dynasty. All the while there are wars, alliances, and betrayals, good priests vs. evil priests, conniving relatives, curses cast, murderous jealousies, plagues, and famines. Coffey not only creates empathy for and breathes life into historical figures, but he inhabits his narrative with a cast who, like real people, are neither good nor evil, but a confused mixture of motive, belief, upbringing, and circumstance. His characters act according to these various drives and needs to realistically propel the action forward. Certainly a must for Egyptophiles; transcends its historical genre and is sure to delight anyone who has ever heard of Tut, Nefertiti, pharaohs, pyramids, or mummies.
In his engaging first book, Coffey breathes life into the pharaohs, kings, queens, and citizens of ancient Egypt and other nations. Set in the 14th century B.C.E., the book is filled with passionate love, violent wars, and political intrigue. It begins with Amenhotep III and his addiction to a fatal drug, and the story continues with his oldest son, Amenhotep IV, who renames himself Akenaten. The new pharaoh’s regrettable decision to separate from Thebes and the kingdom’s pantheon heightens the ongoing battle between royalty and religion, which comes to a head when Akenaten’s chief wife, Nefertiti, declares herself a pharaoh after her husband’s death. She is soon succeeded by her son and the heir to the throne, the young King Tut, who cannot escape his own fate. Gods, priests, and military commanders are entwined with the ruling family as three generations battle through subterfuge, magic, and plague while trying to retain their power. History buffs will recognize the tragic results of treachery, war, and famine and can appreciate insightful details about ancient times, such as when a statue of the disabled Akenaten is created with “perfect deformities that mirrored the shape of a god: his elongated head, neck, and fingers, his newly formed potbelly and wide feminine hips.” Excellent research, amplified by occasional footnotes and supplemented by images, adds believability to this fictionalized history. (BookLife)
“Valley of the Kings” is a generational story following the rise and fall of Amenhotep IV during the 14th Century B.C.E. Pharaoh Amenhotep rule was controversial as he prayed to and garnered support from the god Aten, instead of the widely favored Amun. After his son is killed by a rival nation, Amenhotep falls ill and begins to hallucinate. His other son is physically deformed and deemed shunned by the gods leaving the potential for a power vacuum. Meanwhile, forces beyond either nation conspire to wrest control of Egypt back with brutal wars and tense backroom dealing. Political intrigue, supernatural mysticism, and spycraft abound as the various powers battle over religion, land, and the fate of entire nations. Generations rise and fall as the power shifts hands in a game of thrones that leaves the reader wondering who will finish on top.
Coffey’s obvious research and dedication to the subject matter shines in “Valley of the Kings”. Interjected historical documents lend the story a sense of legitimacy without drowning the action in detail or fact. While firmly rooted in history, the story is lively and engaging. As with most epics, don’t get attached to any one character. The tension remains taut because it is never clear who has control of the situation as pharaohs, oracles, princes, and queens can drop at any moment due to natural, supernatural, or man-made causes. The negatives, thankfully few in number, are not enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of the book. The biggest issue was the sudden jumps in time without adequate contextual clues or provided cues. These can be jarring and would have been better if used as chapter breaks to highlight passing time. At times, the narrative flounders in historical information which breaks up the dramatic tension. Again, none of which is enough to truly detract from a fascinating generational epic.
“Valley of the Kings” is an engaging historical epic spanning generations and nations. The characters are all interesting and defined making it easy to follow, despite the difficult names to pronounce. Included maps and photographs of the main characters’ statues really hammer the point home that these trials and tribulations are real. The dramatic story follows a cycle of hubris that finds characters railing against the gods and circumstances, falling either to illness or violence, and a new power rising to grasp control. Historical and factual but beefed up with drama and intrigue for a story that spills blood and gold that shimmers in the brutal Egyptian sun.
Mr. Coffey has portrayed the 18th Dynasty in story fashion, applying a personal touch to the legends of Egyptian history. I enjoyed reading this saga, having always been fascinated by Egyptian history and culture. I do hope Mr. Coffey goes on to write other story-like histories of the Egyptian dynasties. Valley of the Kings: The 18th Dynasty by Terrance D. Coffey is a great novel for someone wanting to learn a bit of history, but who doesn’t want to go through dense historical texts.