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Sunday
Dec042011

Review: The God's Wife

The God’s Wife; by Lynn Voedisch; Fiction Studio Books; 2011. Available at Amazon. com and b&n.com 

Review by Kent McDaniel

The God’s Wife juxtaposes and intertwines the stories of two young women separated by time and space. In ancient Egypt, sixteen-year-old Neferet is a priestess in training and the Pharaoh’s daughter, whose half-sister Maya has just been discovered strangled inside the god Amun’s ceremonial chapel. Maya had been the God’s Wife of Amun, the most important god in the Egyptian pantheon, his wife theoretically second in power to the Pharaoh. Her corpse was discovered in broad daylight in a chamber, the door to which only she could’ve opened. 

Later, that night Neferet is called to a meeting with her mother, Meryt, the Great Wife of the Pharaoh. Meryt is a beautiful but forbidding woman, whom Neferet fears and dislikes. To Neferet’s surprise, Meryt offers Neferet the role of the God’s Wife. Though Neferet agrees to accept the honor, she feels a welter of mixed emotions: Becoming The God’s Wife of Amun will make her the most powerful woman in Egypt, but will put her in the center of political intrigue. And, as Maya’s fate showed--danger. 

The novel moves between Neferet’s story and Rebecca Kirk’s. A dancer in her early twenties, Rebecca is from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. With virtually no encouragement from her family, she has studied dance at local studios through grade school and high school and then at the University of Iowa. After graduating from the University, Rebecca moves--against her family’s wishes--to Chicago, where she lands a job doing corps work for the Waterfront Dance Company. There, she has finally been offered a leading role. In the dance production of Aida, she will play an enslaved Nubian queen who falls in love with an Egyptian noble.   

Unfortunately Rebecca has begun to suffer blackouts, which she fears could cost her the role. Especially if her spiteful rival, Lenore, discovers them and reports them to the company’s manager. Besides which, Rebecca’s boyfriend, Jonas, is less than thrilled by her opportunity, which will entail an extended tour. She is also having unsettling dreams about ancient Egypt, which seem strangely real. Finally, she encounters a charismatic Egyptologist, Sharif Cadmus, whom she finds overpoweringly attractive, but also sinister and somehow repulsive, her feelings compounded by guilt and fear. 

In both storylines, Voedisch raises the stakes nicely. Someone has found a way to intrude into Neferet’s sessions with Amun in his impregnable chapel. In fact, she has been sexually assaulted there. And her steely mother is pressuring her to marry her brother Zayem, because that would make him next in line to succeed the Pharaoh. Neferet can accept the prospect of an incestuous marriage—it’s a time-honored tradition at the Egyptian court. She despises the reptilian Zayem, however, and has already embarked on a secret affair with his rival, her half-brother Zamose. 

Rebecca’s troubles are more subtle, but the stakes do rise steadily. Sharif insinuates his way into the Waterfront Dance Company as an artistic adviser and convinces the company manager to make Rebecca’s nemesis, Lenore, her understudy.  Meanwhile, her blackouts and eerie dreams are getting worse, her relationship with Jonas is growing strained, and her conflicting feelings about Sharif are escalating as well. Finally, Sharif is beginning to hint that he will force Rebecca to surrender her role to Lenore midway through the tour. 

This is all strong story-telling: The God’s Wife has a lot going for it, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys an exciting read. The novel is not, however, without a few issues of characterization and plotting. The depiction of Rebecca’s family would be one example. Except for one sister, they are all indifferent or hostile to her artistic ambitions, never having attended one of her performances since her childhood. Her mother abused her physically and the whole family comes off as semi-bumpkins. While this sets up a good conflict and some parallels between Rebecca’s and Neferet’s family dynamics, a more nuanced characterization could have done the same and made the family members more three-dimensional. Another matter presents more serious problems. Later in the novel, we discover that Sharif is a being more fantastic and sinister than we had thought, as are his plans for Rebecca. By the novel’s end, however, we are still in the dark as to his exact nature and what his actual plans for Rebecca were. His ultimate fate is even unknown to us.   

Voedisch has created a colorful cast of characters, and the story that unfolds will keep readers turning the pages. 

Tying up those loose ends would have benefited the novel, but such complaints notwithstanding, the book’s overall plotting and characterization are good. Voedisch has created a colorful cast of characters, and the story that unfolds will keep readers turning the pages. As will the flow of the novel’s prose, which is tight, vivid, and textured, with dialog that consistently rings true. Another factor that readers should enjoy is the book’s well-drawn settings. The author’s research of ancient Egypt has obviously been thorough, and she is clearly familiar with the milieu of a dance company. The reader receives abundant details of both settings, and should find entering the scenes effortless. 

Voedisch tells a compelling story in The God’s Wife and mixes genres pleasantly. The book should please fans of mystery, adventure, and romantic fiction. 

{Note: My copy of The God’s Wife, was missing several pages, a defect which I’m told will be corrected in later editions. Voedisch has the missing pages up at her website (www.lynnvoedisch.com ). I actually read on without referring to the missing pages and was able to comprehend the story with no problem. Afterward, I went back to read the missing pages and found that the scene therein enriched my appreciation of the characters Rebecca and Sharif.}  

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