Hatshepsut—the daughter of a general who usurped Egypt’s throne and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty—was born into a privileged position in the royal household, and she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her improbable rule as a cross-dressing king. At just over twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of pharaoh in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays in the veil of piety and sexual reinvention. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut shrewdly operated the levers of power to emerge as Egypt’s second female pharaoh.
Hatshepsut successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her monuments were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her unprecedented rule. (goodreads.com)
Hatshepsut was a name I’d heard for a while, since I’ve always been interested in ancient Egypt, but I didn’t know much, if anything, about her. Cooney put together a biography that mapped her life from birth until her alleged death and the path she took on the way to the throne. Like Stacy Schiff did with her Cleopatra book Cooney did with Hatshepsut: filtering out the bias and giving us a story that’s as much this ancient king’s as it could possibly be, untainted by societal norms and male opinions.
THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING is a dense book for one so short, but that’s to be expected when it was authored by an Egyptologist who wants to be as factual as possible. Of course Cooney took some liberties with unrecorded moments in Hatshepsut’s life but she gave a number of possible feelings toward a situation that the woman could have been feeling, instead of asserting a single one.
Without a doubt this is a book of love. I don’t mean the story itself, I mean the incredible amount of heart that Cooney put into it. Her admiration for this ancient female king is obvious. The care with which she takes to portray this woman’s life and her rise into kingship is as delicate as if she were handling a faberge egg. But forceful, of course. Because Hatshepsut was a force to be reckoned with. She took a kingship for herself, asserted her own power in a male-dominated society with very little protest. She ruled during a prosperous time and brought an incredible amount of wealth into Egypt using knowledge she acquired from her father, Tuthmose I. She acted as regent to a child king until he came of age.
It’s a shame that Tuthmose III felt the need to erase her legacy in order to assert his own. And, of course, when pieces of Hatshepsut started to be found millennia later she was viewed as a usurper, a woman overstepping her bounds. Considering I read DAUGHTER OF SAND AND STONE by Libbie Hawker while reading THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING they complimented each other fantastically. But Cooney does point out that Hatshepsut is the only female ruler who wasn’t reacting to an outside force and who wasn’t motivated by the actions of men in enemy territory. She was simply there, wanted what was hers, and took it. And was damn successful at it.
THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING is an empowering look into the life of an incredible woman who was nearly lost to history. The world needs more women like this. And therein lies its depressing facets too. Because there are so few women like this, then and now. Oh, we’re growing in number, of course, but man did it take forever. And trust history (read: men) to impugn or outright erase any power the “weaker sex” may have acquired. Cooney’s book makes me wish I would have followed my original dream to become an Egyptologist (and gone to UCLA, at that). There is so much to learn from our forebears and Cooney’s book proves that.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.