Historical Musings #47: Exploring Ancient Egypt

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction. This month I’m going to be asking for some recommendations…

In January I read When Women Ruled the World by Kara Cooney, a non-fiction book about six female rulers of Ancient Egypt. I didn’t particularly enjoy that book as I thought it was too preoccupied with drawing parallels with modern politics, but it did make me aware of how little I’ve actually read about Ancient Egypt! I can’t think of any other non-fiction books I’ve read on the subject and not much historical fiction either.

Years ago, before I started blogging, I read some of Christian Jacq’s Ramses novels about the pharaoh Ramses II, although I can’t remember which ones – The Lady of Abu Simbel, I think, and at least one or two others. More recently, I have read Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran, about Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra and Marc Antony – although that book was set mainly in Rome rather than Egypt. I’ve read Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra too, but otherwise I’m really struggling to think of anything at all that I’ve read set even partly in Ancient Egypt. As I’ve mentioned before, in my posts on Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, I have never really felt drawn to books about the ancient world and am much more comfortable with later periods of history.

I have read the first two books in the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters – Crocodile on the Sandbank and Curse of the Pharaohs – but they are set in 19th century Egypt with storylines revolving around Ancient Egyptian archaeology rather than being set in Ancient Egypt itself, so they’re not really the sort of books I’m looking for here.

I found a list of Best Egyptian Historical Fiction on Goodreads, but I want to hear your suggestions too.

Have you read any books set in Ancient Egypt? Which would you recommend?

32 thoughts on “Historical Musings #47: Exploring Ancient Egypt

  1. Calmgrove says:

    I’d love to be able to help but I feel even more in the dark about this millennia-long period than you give yourself credit for! (I don’t think even I can claim ‘Joseph and his amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ as historical fiction…)

    • Helen says:

      It’s interesting how certain topics just seem to evade us in our reading…I haven’t deliberately avoided Ancient Egypt but it’s not a subject I’ve ever been drawn to either.

  2. jessicabookworm says:

    I absolutely adore Ancient Egypt and as a child I voraciously consumed history books on it. However, I sadly can only think of one novel I have read set in that time period, which was Asenath, by Anna Patricio. It has been quite a few years since I read it though, but I vaguely remember liking it. I too really must read more Ancient Egyptian novels!

    • Helen says:

      Thank you, Jessica. I haven’t heard of that book or author but I’ll make a note of it. I’m looking forward to working through all the books mentioned in these comments. 🙂

  3. Lark says:

    King and Goddess by Judith Tarr is a great book set in ancient Egypt. And you already know about Christian Jacq; his books about Egypt are really well-researched. The other books I’ve read that are set in Egypt are more modern. Good luck with your search. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      Judith Tarr is an author I’ve been interested in trying for a while, so maybe I’ll look for King and Goddess. I should probably re-read Christian Jacq’s books too, as it was so long ago I can’t remember anything about them.

    • Helen says:

      I know Michelle Moran has written other Egyptian novels as well as Cleopatra’s Daughter, but I’m not sure that I like her writing enough to want to read any more.

  4. Mattias says:

    I would strongly suggest Joseph and his Brothers by Thomas Mann, the amours German writer. I cannot give an opinion about the English translation, since I never read them in English, but the book is excellent. I should rather say the four books because it is a tetralogy and some of them are set in ancient Palestine rather than on Egypt but still Egypt is the mor important place in these books. Thomas Mann did an extraordinary amount of studying ancient Egypt beforehand and there is even a book on the topic of „Thomas Mann as an Egyptologist“ (in German). If you are in for an excellent (but long) read with an deep historic understanding then you should consider these books.
    By the way I really like your blog and got many very readable suggestions so far. Please continue!

    • Helen says:

      Thank you for your comment, Mattias. I have read Death in Venice by Thomas Mann and liked his writing, so I’m definitely interested in reading Joseph and His Brothers. I’m pleased to hear he did so much research for the book. It sounds excellent!

  5. Melita Kennedy says:

    A young adult book that I really loved was Cat in the Mirror by Mary Stolz. A girl gets knocked out and wakes up in ancient Egypt, in her previous life, maybe. I think it’s out of print.

    I tried a Waltari novel once set in ancient Egypt and didn’t get very far.

    Besides King and Goddess, Judith Tarr has written about Akhenaten in Pillar of Fire, and Ramsses (I think) in the Shepherd Kings. There’s also her Alexander story, Lord of Two Lands (very good).

    Jo Graham also has written of Alexander’s era in Stealing Fire, and Cleopatra in Hand of Isis.

    Then there’s Out of the House of Life by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, about the birth of her vampire, St. Germain.

    There are quite a few ancient Egypt mystery series, but I’ve never ready any of them.

    • Helen says:

      Thank you for those suggestions, Melita. I definitely want to try something by Judith Tarr and I like the sound of Cat in the Mirror as I love time travel novels. It does seem to be out of print but maybe I’ll find a copy somewhere.

      Sorry you didn’t get on with the Waltari novel – I’ve often wondered whether I would like his books but I haven’t tried one yet.

  6. sarah G. says:

    Daughter of the Gods by Stephanie Thornton is a fantastic, immersive look at Hatshepsut (I’m sure I butchered that spelling), one of ancient Egypt’s female pharaohs.

    • sarah G. says:

      LOL As soon as I posted the prev comment, I thought of another example. I read a historical mystery series years ago, the Lord Meren series by Lynda Robinson, that is set in the King Tut years, I believe. The major sleuth was an Egyptian nobleman who had a hard time during Akhenaten’s rule. I remember really enjoying that series.

      • Helen says:

        Hatshepsut is one of the pharaohs covered in the non-fiction book I read a few weeks ago, so I would love to read some fiction about her. I’ll definitely think about reading the Stephanie Thornton book. The Lord Meren series sounds good too – thanks!

  7. Anbolyn says:

    I can’t recommend any novels set in Ancient Egypt, but I really liked Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. It’s a fascinating biography of the famous ruler. Good luck on your search!

  8. Jo says:

    Gosh that’s a tough ask. Sadly my Ancient Egypt reading stopped at a wonderful Usborne Book about Egypt I had as a child. I love the fact that you wish to branch out your reading repertoire but great joy can be found in reading what you like the best.

    • Helen says:

      I used to love Usborne books but didn’t have one about Egypt! And yes, I agree – I do want to branch out and read different things now and then, but I’m sure I’ll always be drawn back to my favourite authors and favourite subjects. 🙂

  9. Margaret says:

    One book came to my mind – Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie. It is set on the West bank of the Nile at Thebes in about 2000 BC. She based her characters and plot on some letters from a Ka priest in the 11th Dynasty.

    According to her Autobiography she had done a lot of reading from books lent to her by a friend, Professor Stephen Glanville and had also bombarded him with questions about daily life and customs in the 11th Dynasty – such as what food did they eat, how did they cook it, did men and women eat together, what sort of rooms did they sleep in, where did they keep their linen, what sort of houses did they have, and so on. I loved it.

    • Helen says:

      I love Agatha Christie but haven’t read that one yet and it does sound intriguing! I’m glad you enjoyed it. It sounds as though it was well researched.

  10. Judy Krueger says:

    Two books by Wilbur Smith were definite winners for me: River God and The Seventh Scroll. Though it is very long, I loved The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve enjoyed some of Margaret George’s other books, so I’ll have to read The Memoirs of Cleopatra too. All of her books are very long, I think. I haven’t read anything by Wilbur Smith – maybe I should try one of the books you mention.

      • Judy Krueger says:

        Read River God first, it is earlier in time but The Seventh Scroll is related to it. In my opinion, they are his two best books. The rest are almost trashy historical fiction, though I did learn a lot about Africa back when I was reading him.

  11. Lisa says:

    The first book I read set in Ancient Egypt was Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Mara, Daughter of the Nile, which fascinated me. It’s a young-adult book, so I don’t know if you’d be interested in reading it.

  12. elainethomp says:

    Most of what I read that was set in Ancient Egypt was for kids or YA. Lissa’s recommendation of Mara: Daughter of the Nile is good. MNcgraw also wrote The Golden Goblet.

    i remember from years ago Lucille Morrison’s Lost Queen of Egypt about Ahknaten’s daughter and Tut’s wilfe. and an Andre Norton Shadow Hawk set during the Hyksos years.

    more obviously aimed at adults, Gillian Bradshaw’s Cleopatra’s Heir feature the son she bore to Ceasar which I quite enjoyed. Also I haven’t read them, GEdge fell off my radar at some point, but I like other books by her: Pauline Gedge, Twellth Transforming Ahknaten), Child of the Morning ( Hatshuspet), and a couple others.

    Family members read Jacque, but I didn’t, so can’t opine.

    Hope this help!

    • Helen says:

      Thank you, Elaine. I didn’t even read any Ancient Egypt books as a child, so I clearly have a lot of catching up to do! Gillian Bradshaw is already on my list of authors to try, so I’ll look out for Cleopatra’s Heir. I’m glad you’ve mentioned Pauline Gedge too as I’ve often wondered whether I would like her books. Maybe I’ll try Child of the Morning.

  13. Small Review says:

    One of my favorite Egypt books ever is Martha Rolfheart’s book The Alexandrian, written about Cleopatra. I’ve read Cleopatra books since then, but they all fell short in comparison.

    From the list you linked, I read Stephanie Dray’s Cleopatra Selene trilogy and enjoyed it a lot. There are fantastical elements to it that were fine but didn’t need to be there. I enjoyed the character development and interplay between Cleopatra Selene and Augustus a lot.

    It’s not set in ancient times, but I also really liked Sally Beauman’s book The Visitors, which follows the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.

    I haven’t read Michelle Moran’s books, but I own several. I’m sad to hear you didn’t like her writing style much. I’m very much looking forward to your thoughts on the Stephanie Thornton book. I haven’t read her stuff yet, but I have high hopes!

    • Helen says:

      I’ve enjoyed some of Martha Rofheart’s other books, so maybe I would like The Alexandrian. Thanks for reminding me about it. The Stephanie Dray and Sally Beauman books sound good too, so I’ll look out for those.

      As for Michelle Moran, I’ve read a few of her books and have found the quality very mixed. I enjoyed The Second Empress, about Napoleon’s sister Pauline, and Rebel Queen, about Rani Lakshmibai of India, but I thought her book on Mata Hari was very disappointing and I decided after that not to read any more.

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