SUMMARY: Set in Ancient Egypt. To spare her younger sister from having to do it, eighteen-year old Naomi offers herself as a bride to the Pharaoh Akhenaten. Prophesied to be the one to birth the pharaoh’s important male heir, Naomi is forced to change her name to Kiya and give up her Hebrew religion in favor of Akhenaten’s monotheistic beliefs. As a fifth wife, Kiya must contend with the cruelty of Akhenaten’s Great Wife Nefertiti as she tries to make the pharaoh fall in love with her. In doing so, Kiya gains her own power and even finds love herself.
REVIEW: Okay, I had no idea that King Tut’s lineage was a mystery among historians. I thought Nefertiti was his indisputable mother, and I had no idea there was any doubt about that. Doing a little research after I read the book, I found that while DNA evidence supports the pharaoh Akhenaten as King Tut’s father, his mother’s identity is less certain. Kiya takes that uncertainty and runs with it, serving up a page-turning story about a lesser-known “mother” for King Tut. What a cool premise for historical fiction! The story is interesting and at times, difficult to put down.
Too adult? While I enjoyed the story, I disagree with the book’s YA classification. Though Kiya is only eighteen, she is several times considered “too old” to marry Akhenaten. People just didn’t live as long back then, and at 18, Kiya is clearly an adult. Also, Kiya is a married woman who has intimate relations with her husband several times, becoming a mother in the process. None of the intimate scenes are graphic or descriptive, but the idea of harems and orgies and incestuous relationships is pretty mature for YA.
Further, as with royal families throughout history, Akhenaten’s lineage is full of incest (to keep the royal bloodline “pure”). Akhenaten’s three oldest daughters are wives #2, #3, and #4, which is mentioned several times. The reader can only assume then, that Akhenaten had intercourse with his daughters. There are allusions to orgies, which is a big part of the story when Kiya has to make the list of which wives and concubines get to spend the evening/night with Akhenaten. With a whopping 312 wives and concubines, their nightly visits are scheduled in groups. All these things may be historically accurate, but in my opinion, the concepts are far too mature for a YA label.
I also wish the author or publisher had included a “Notes” section at the end, giving some insight into the historical events surrounding the real Kiya. I finished the book and was dying to know what was based on fact and what was fiction. Did Hamstead base Kiya on one of the other mummies found in King Tut’s tomb? Was she real? What about the DNA tests in 2010? I was so curious about all this Egyptian stuff after I finished that I researched it for at least an hour after I finished. Historical fiction usually has a section at the end about the history behind the story, and in Kiya, this section is conspicuously absent.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Kiya is a fast-paced, intriguing story about a fascinating period in Egyptian history. Readers will hunger for more information about Nefertiti, Akhenaten, Kiya, and King Tut after reading this book. An excellent choice for adults and mature teens who understand that, while abhorrent by today’s standards, that’s just how things were back then.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: No way we can get this–too mature.
READALIKES: Cleopatra’s Moon (Shecter)
- Overall: 4/5
- Creativity: 5/5
- Characters: 4/5
- Engrossing: 4/5
- Writing: 4/5
- Appeal to teens: 3/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
- Language: none
- Sexuality: high; incest, harems, concubines, polygamy, orgies, virginity check–details are not graphic
- Violence: mild
- Drugs/Alcohol: none