Jess Talks: Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley
I’d like to give a warm welcome to Jess, my good friend who’s just as big a book nut as I am! Today in Jess Talks, Jess gives us her thoughts on Queen of Kings, by Maria Dahvana Headley:
History merged with magic is an intriguing idea, and that’s what Maria Headley sets out to do in Queen of Kings. The trick to this sort of story is how well you pull it off: is it realistic, despite the magic? Do the characters stand up? Is the narrative clear? Here’s what I thought of Headley’s execution:
It’s 30BC, and Octavian Caesar and his legions are determined to take Alexandria. Having always wanted Cleopatra for his own, Octavian devises a ruse that leads Cleopatra to believe her beloved Mark Antony has taken his own life. Driven to the brink of madness by Octavian’s deception, Cleopatra calls upon the god Sekhmet, seeking his aid in reclaiming her Kingdom, and returning Mark Antony.
Calling upon Gods is never free, however, as Cleopatra quickly discovers. Sekhment agrees to return Mark Antony: in exchange for Cleopatra’s own soul. Under Sekhmet’s influence, Cleopatra is transformed into a shape-shifting, blood-sucking immortal being with only one driving force: vengeance. Completely devoid of anything human or good, she will settle for nothing less than the complete destruction of Octavian, and the world he has taken for himself.
But Octavian has magic, too. Calling upon three sorcerers – a Psylli snake warrior, a Seiokona, who can weave together the threads of fate, and a priestess of Hecate whose agenda is her own – he prepares to battle the being that was once Cleopatra. Can he destroy this monster and save Rome?
I’m in two minds about this novel. On one hand I found it really intriguing, because I liked the idea of taking history and morphing it into something magical. I wasn’t a fan of how Maria Headley did this, however. A fair few times throughout the novel I found myself lost and unable to properly follow the events taking place. The main problem was that there were so many things going on at once. On top of that, including a lot of detailed descriptions in your writing is a wonderful skill, but in Headley’s Queen of Kings this was done at the expense of the story, leaving the narrative floundering.
Having said that, I thought Cleopatra’s character was well-handled: her transformation from woman wronged to beast with the ability to seek her revenge was fascinating. Octavian also had a cool spiral from courageous, conquering General to frightened and cowardly man.
So overall, this novel gets an average rating. T’was okay. But only okay.