Other Sellers on Amazon
+ Free Shipping
Queen of Kings Hardcover – May 12, 2011
|New from||Used from|
"Devoted" by Dean Koontz
For the first time in paperback, from Dean Koontz, the master of suspense, comes an epic thriller about a terrifying killer and the singular compassion it will take to defeat him. | Learn more
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Frequently bought together
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Téa Obreht was born in Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia in 1985 and has lived in the United States since the age of twelve. She She has been named by The New Yorker as one of the twenty best American fiction writers under forty and included in the National Book Foundation’s list of 5 Under 35. Obreht is the author of The Tiger's Wife.
Introduction from Maria Dahvana Headley: I met Téa Obreht, author of The Tiger’s Wife, because I read an article she wrote for Harper’s Magazine about Eastern European vampire legends, and wrote her a love letter in response to it. I was deep into the revision of my own vampire book, Queen of Kings, when I read the article, and I was re-reading passages dealing with vampire legends much older than those she was writing about, but there was no competition, just admiration. The article was strange, strong, magical, and raucous, just like Téa herself. I wouldn’t say that our books are terribly similar, but I would say that we (and they) have similar preoccupations. An interest in monsters and beasts, and the strange relationships humans can have with same. A fascination with folklore and myth. A few months later, we met for a drink after a reading Tea did in Seattle, and we discovered that we also both have a dirty sense of humor, a tendency to laugh loud and long, and the kind of personality that attracts strangers to our table, usually bearing peculiar gifts. I’m honored to be interviewed by her.
Téa Obreht: Tell me a little bit about Queen of Kings. How did it start? How long did it gestate? Has this subject matter always been something with which you always wanted to deal in writing?
Maria Dahvana Headley: I started writing Queen of Kings in September 2009, in what was essentially a fit of madness. I’d been working intensely for four years on another book, a novel based in my family history, and I could not seem get it right. Worse, it seemed to be driving me crazy. Michael Chabon has talked a lot about this, working on a “wreck” – and has recently, bravely, published an annotated version of part of his own wrecked novel, Fountain City. Suffice it to say that I completely relate. One day in the middle of another 800 page draft of my leaky, half-sinking, occasionally awesome novel, I was struck by a sudden idea for what is now the second book in this trilogy. It’d never occurred to me to write anything like this, but the book is full of things I’ve been interested in my entire life, mythology and classical history, gods, monsters… Everyone in my life was no doubt weary of my moaning about the other book, and so I got a lot of encouragement to start something new. Still, it was hard to put all that work on the back burner. I gnashed my teeth for a few days, and then started feverishly writing Queen of Kings, which I sold a few months later, literally as a first draft, and then rewrote extensively for another few months after that. It was a surprise, but a happy one. I had no idea what kind of book I was going to write, almost until the moment I finished it.
Téa Obreht: Coming off the stunningly successful publication of your first book, The Year of Yes: A Memoir, you’re in a unique position with Queen of Kings-—both your books are, in some way, “firsts”. Why did you decide to make this leap from memoir into fiction, and what has surprised you about it? Did you find the writing process very different?
Maria Dahvana Headley: It’s a departure, for sure. The Year of Yes is not only a memoir, it’s a comedic one. Queen of Kings isn’t funny at all. I think there’s one funny line in the book – or at least, only one that’s intentionally funny. I hope there aren’t more! I never considered myself a memoir writer for the long haul. I started as a playwright, and then wrote short stories for years. The Year of Yes was a kind of lovely fluke, and though it was a great experience, I think I’m actually happier writing fiction these days. That book felt like a collection of stories I might tell at a cocktail party, and this one feels like a story I might tell if I were Scheherazade working my way through 1001 nights. It’s a much bigger canvas. Though all stories, whether they’re fiction or nonfiction, are told through the storyteller’s filter, there’s something wonderful in getting to truly make things up. Even though Queen of Kings is a hybrid of historical fiction and dark fantasy, and contains a lot of factual material, I was still able to create monsters. It turns out that it’s a great deal of fun to invent monsters. I had no idea!
Téa Obreht: Queen of Kings is delightful and surprising and difficult to encapsulate, negotiating a well-known and much-beloved historical episode with your own new and incredible mythology. Talk to me about genre-bending: what made you want to dust off the Cleopatra legend, and what kind of balance did you want to strike between historical accuracy and the world you wanted to work with as a writer? Did you feel intimidated at all by obligation or homage?
Maria Dahvana Headley: The thing that drew me to your work was actually a similar kind of genre-bending spirit: your novel The Tiger’s Wife is both literary fiction and stunning fantasy, filled with folklore, myth, and magic as well as history, and when I read it, I was floored. Queen of Kings has a equally wide range (though it’s a very different kind of story and book). Perhaps I just have a greedy spirit and want a book to contain everything all at once! I love the idea of monsters and witches, Gods and ghosts being part of a novel rooted in real events. In classical Rome and Egypt, a story like the one I invented for Queen of Kings wouldn’t have been at all beyond the pale. These were societies in which the gods wandered amongst the people, and in which magic and witchcraft were utterly believed in. It was only a small step, therefore, for me to find very natural places for my magical creations to mix with the story of Cleopatra, Antony, Augustus and the Roman Army. I researched the book with Plutarch, Suetonius, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and many more texts, and I was able to depict a lot of the history very faithfully – in part because the history itself is full of mysteries and inconsistencies. In many cases, I simply filled in the gaps. Of course, there are definitely places in the book wherein the history and I diverge radically – this, after all, is a book in which a woman sells her soul to a goddess, and becomes immortal. Sekhmet, the Egyptian chaos goddess featured in the book actually IS vampiric. She’s not called a vampire – that word didn’t exist in the ancient world – but she drinks blood. That’s really in the mythology, and it was a lot of fun to play with it in this story. Even novels that are straight historical fiction are works of fantasy in many regards. We imagine ourselves into the minds of people we don’t know, people who perhaps actually existed. No matter how accurate our research is, there are always unknowns in any kind of story. And even though lots of people have written terrific books about Cleopatra, this one is fundamentally different, so I managed to feel relatively calm about taking on her legend. Perhaps I should’ve felt a bit more stressed out! There’s certainly a lot of baggage associated with the most famous woman in history, but there are a lot of glorious unknowns, too.
Téa Obreht: Here’s a question I often think about myself: what is it about the darkness in myth that draws us as readers and as human beings?
Maria Dahvana Headley: I love that question. I think that there’s something so compelling, in story terms, in the surprises often found in myth, the creatures appearing out of dark water, the monsters chasing and then falling in love with their prey, the tender (and sometimes not so tender) nearly-human desires in the hearts of beasts. Your book, particular the sections involving the tiger, and from the tiger’s perspective, is all about this notion, and you deal with it beautifully. With their fantastical elements, their metaphor and spectacle, myths have something interesting to say about both the complexity of love, and about the randomness of life. Many things in life do not, after all, follow a rational narrative. In myth, characters are often punished by the gods for things that they did not do. Sometimes life is the same way. Myths almost always have life and death stakes, and I think we crave stories like that. We are in lots of ways savage creatures who’ve been only superficially tamed. These days, love looks to us like hearts and flowers, but the classical version of love is often a great deal more brutal and complicated. The story of Hades and Persephone, for example, begins with a kidnapping, and ends with what in many accounts seems to be a loving marriage. I actually thought quite a bit about this as I was writing this book, given that a lot of the mythology I was reading and drawing from is incredibly bloody. There’s a character in Queen of Kings whose actions are based in part on those of Medea, for example, a woman who is most famous for brutally murdering her own children. (Fear not, that actually doesn’t happen in this book – I was more interested in Medea’s youth spells.) As well, the heroine of this book does a lot of things I’d never do myself. She kills a lot of people. I had to put myself into a mindset where I could imagine why she would, and empathize with her. Essentially, I spent a lot of writing days in the mind of a monster, hungering, desperate, and compelled, longing for lost loves, and vengeance.
Téa Obreht: Reading Queen of Kings, I sensed a lot of gothic undertones, I’d love to know more about what inspires you as a writer. How do you experience literary influence? Are you drawn to the work of other writers by language, by theme, by their treatment of story? To what works did you return—or, perhaps, what works did you discover—while writing Queen of Kings?
Maria Dahvana Headley: I’m an obsessive reader, and I’m fortunate enough to be friends with many of the writers I most admire. Do they influence me? Of course. Everything I love influences me. Many of the writers I most adore create works that are stunning both on a sentence to sentence level and on a plotting level. I happen to like books in which BIG things happen. I love cliffhangers, and twists, mystery and surprise – and I especially love them when they are written by writers who care about language. Words, are, after all, a significant part of the ingredients to any magic spell, and for me, the best books are enchantments. To my eye, writers like Guy Gavriel Kay, Neil Gaiman, Rikki DuCornet, Peter Straub, Angela Carter, Kathryn Davis, China Mieville, and you (!) have been really successful in mixing together disparate ingredients and creating a new kind of storytelling. I also re-read George R.R. Martin’s fantastic Ice & Fire books right before I started writing this. He kills characters. Unapologetically. It’s very much what I was saying a moment ago about myth. Weirdly, though, one of the things that most inspired this book was a very ancient kind of storytelling. I started thinking about the oldest novels and epic poems, from Beowulf to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, to Apuleis’ The Golden Ass, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses – and they’re all fantasy twined together with history and realistic events. Those books inspired me as well. While I wrote, I wallowed in the wonders of Ovid and Virgil, the Sibylline Oracles, and in the Sir Thomas North translation of Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans (circa 1593, which Shakespeare used as source material for Antony & Cleopatra). Pure, if geeky, pleasure.
Téa Obreht: And, of course, what’s next for you? Do you think you’ll stay with fiction, move back to memoir? Venture into something new?
Maria Dahvana Headley: Queen of Kings is the first book of a trilogy, and I have all three books mapped out in my head, (the second one is in progress) so I’m definitely going to be busy with fiction for a while!
(Photo of Téa Obreht © Beowulf Sheehan)
(Photo of Maria Dahvana Headley © John Ulman)
-Danielle Trussoni, New York Times bestselling author of Angelology
- Item Weight : 1.45 pounds
- Hardcover : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0525952179
- ISBN-13 : 978-0525952176
- Product Dimensions : 6.25 x 1.75 x 9.25 inches
- Publisher : Dutton; Book Club (BCE/BOMC) Edition (May 12, 2011)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,353,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Honestly, it's almost worth a read to just watch as this spectacular, messy, painful train-wreck unfolds itself before your eyes. But don't do it to yourself, oh kind and gentle readers. It's not fun bad. It's just bad-bad. And in the end you'll just be left feeling disappointed and bored.
The author seems like she's frantically throwing everything at this story and trying to see what sticks, and it's frustrating to sift through. There's ghost Marc Antony, somehow tied to this evil sexy witch/hag. She's evil, and sexy. Except when she's not sexy. Then she's old and gross. OLD! GROSS! The book will make sure you understand just how OLD and GROSS she actually is except when it wants to remind you how SEXY she can be. I don't remember her other personality traits. But at least she has three attributes, which is more then I can say about the other characters.
There's some other old magic lady. And she is OLD, yes. But she is GOOD, so her OLDNESS is emphasized less. She has a magic stick. It does...something for the plot. Then there's this African chieftain who's lover is the wind goddess. Neat! He hates the Romans, except when he doesn't, but he definitely doesn't trust them, except when he does. He wants them OUT of his land! And he wants to PROTECT his people. Except when he goes off and acts as a bodyguard for Augustus for poorly thought-out reasons.
And Augustus! Is awful! And I mean, not only is his character in this book objectively awful, but it's also awful how badly his historical character is misrepresented in this. Gone is the genius, strong, controversial military commander and first emperor of Rome, instead we get a whiny, dumb manchild who spends most of the novel flailing around, screaming impotently and crying. You would've thought the ghost of Augustus personally ran over the author's pet cat, because she takes an almost vicious glee in making him just...the absolute worst.
Cleopatra is also pretty lame. She's kinda shortsighted, eats her servants, and goes back and forth between having a personality and just existing as this poorly defined force of nature. But the author remembered Cleopatra spoke a bunch of languages so...that's cool, I guess.
The plot too, also existed. Something something Augustus whining, something something evil witch, something something save the day. Who cares, not me. And apparently, not the author. Save your money, stay away!
I enjoyed reading Queen of Kings and finished quickly, as it's written like a thriller for the most part, with short, punchy chapters that pull you in and force you to keep reading. I found the writing to be quite good, though as a writer and editor myself, I could tell this was the author's first novel sometimes. A little awkwardness crept into the prose on a few occasions, which was usually brilliant.
Headley chose to use the third person omniscient point of view, which is fraught with danger, and for the most part the author did a very good job with it. However, when you use that point of view, you generally sacrifice something as many of the other reviews of this book have pointed out. In this case, it was sympathy toward the major characters. The point of view shifted so often that it was difficult to really identify or get into any one character's head and empathize with them. The Roman emperor, Augustus (Octavian), seemed to have the most page time, and I found him to be much different than I had imagined. I thought he was a very intelligent and strategic man in real life, but he was portrayed as a bumbling villain, rather than an astute politician.
Cleopatra herself was the most sympathetic, as was Mark Antony, but they did not have as much page time as I would have liked. The early parts of the book were probably my favorite, though the string of convenient coincidences bothered me a little, but fate was being manipulated the whole time by the gods, so I can forgive that. This is a big story that covers a huge amount of ground. Summarizing large events and time periods is good with the third person point of view, and to tell this story the author had to go in that direction.
I'm really interested in what happens next, and really enjoyed how the author used historical events and her own inspired imaginings to weave this fascinating tale. I loved reading about the witches that Octavian and General Marcus Agrippa recruited to fight Cleopatra: the Norse weaver of fate, the Greek witch who manipulated ghosts, and Usem, from the African tribe of the Psylli, who had power over the wind and snakes. Usem was married to the Western Wind, and she an awesome character as well.
Overall, this book is filled with unexpected and wild imagining, and you have to just buy into the crazy plot and not think too much about the decisions of the main characters. Most of the old myths read just like this novel, and the author was giving a lot of nods to the legendary stories of old, which don't make a lot of sense if you look at them too closely. The author really went for it, and the plot evolved in directions I was not expecting.
I applaud the boldness of the author and will definitely read the planned sequels (it's a trilogy according to the author's note). If you love Greek myths, Cleopatra's story, wild historical fantasy, and ancient Rome, this is a book for you.
I was surprised when I realized it was a fantasy style story. I was even more surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
How many books can there be about Cleopatra, this books proves that there are still more stories to be told.
The book fights my own thoughts and feelings about the historical characters. At times, I down right didn't like where the author took some of the the people and how she fought the sterotypes, but that isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it!
Fresh, fast paced and vivid, give this book a read.
Top reviews from other countries
I freely admit that I am not usually much of a fan of Roman or Egyptian history or mythology, though in this case the addition of shamans from different cultures provided an intriguing counterpoint to the main story. The story managed to stick to the historical records whilst still taking it in new and interesting directions. Octavian is weak and decidedly human, wanting to believe himself bigger and more heroic than he actually is - Freud would have a field day with the relationship between Octavian and Cleopatra! Add in three different shaman types - a priestess of Hecate, an African wind shaman and a seidr priestess who meddles with things normally left to the Fates to manage - and you certainly have a mixed bag of interesting characters.
Cleopatra, transformed, is both awesome and aweful in equal measure, and I felt both sorry for her and horrified by the things she did having made her choice and reaped the double edged rewards.
About the only thing I would say against this book, the only thing that really made me give it three stars instead of four, was that it took ages to get going. I had to really force myself to wade through the first half of the book, before it finally picked up in the second half. The characters are all dislikeable to a degree, which made it difficult to have a great deal of sympathy for any of them, though I suppose it may simply be that life may have been held to be much less valuable then than it is now, making it easier to throw away lives left, right and centre - who knows? I ended up with grudging respect for Cleopatra, however bad her decisions may have been, and will probably pick up the sequel to the book just to find out what mischief she gets up to next.
All in all - not bad, could be better but could certainly be worse! If you love Egyptian and Roman history and mythology, you may well enjoy this book.
You see, most of Roman Mark Anthony's soldiers feel betrayed by him, so have deserted him and a false message sent to him causes him to believe that Cleopatra has betrayed him too. You all know what happens next...
Desperate to gain the strength to be able to defeat Rome, Cleopatra calls on scholar Nicolaus of Damascus - tutor to Cleopatra's three youngest children - to translate a spell for her, which will enable her to call down the blood-thirsty Goddess Sekhmet. The so-called plan is that Cleopatra will then order Sekhmet to get rid of the invading Romans and Sekhmet will simply do as she's ordered to do.
Yeah, you can guess that that doesn't turn out so well. Sekhmet turns Cleopatra into a blood thirsty, immortal, umm, thing. Meanwhile Rome does overthrow Egypt. When the dust settles, Cleopatra is determined to hunt down Octavian and try to find some kind of spell reversal to free herself from Sekhmet's grip...
What makes QUEEN OF KINGS different for me is the setting; I don't know if it's authentic, but the author really paints a realistic picture of life and politics in BC era Egypt and Rome.
I'm fascinated with Cleopatra's transformation into Sekhmet's sort of slave; she shows all of the classic vampiric traits, but she also transforms into a snake like being and a lion at various points. It's 40 BC, so she can't turn on Buffy or check Wiki to see whats happening, so she is clueless.
I'm annoying myself trying to figure out what Cleopatra has been transformed into; the closest creature in Egyptian mythology I've found is the God Apep [darkness and chaos], but I remember reading a Laurell K Hamilton book which briefly featured a immortal human/snake, but I can't remember the name of the creature, or remember which book so I can find the place that it's mentioned.
The biggest downfall here is that Cleopatra isn't likable, for a few reasons. The main reason is that she is very arrogant, with a huge sense of entitlement; she called on a Goddess known as the Scarlet Lady and the Lady of Slaughter and expected her to do as she is ordered to do by Cleopatra... And after she begins her murderous rampage, she tells herself that they were only slaves that she killed, so it's not that bad. I suppose that this arrogance is authentic for the time and for her position, but it leaves me unable to sympathise with her, so I find it hard to care for her circumstances.
She is also so wrapped up with Mark that they have left their children to feel neglected and - to me at least - she does seem to love her oldest child [he is Julius Caesar's son] more then the other three. And of course there is also the question of her deserting Egypt to reveal in Mark Anthony's Roman and Greek Gods and traditions, so she can be seen as a traitor to Egypt. She also blames other people for her problems, when it's clear that she created most of them herself.
As of yet I'm not seeing enough of a change in her attitude to suggest that she is learning from her mistakes, but the author's writing style is engrossing enough to have kept me reading and I will check out the next book to see if Cleopatra grows or not.
The story is as silly as it sounds and one couldn't guess the sheer amount of poetic license and imagination that the author has used. In fairness I've never read anything quite like this. A fantasy book that uses real life figures from the distant past. To be honest I am slightly uncomfortable with this, it seems disrespectful to me although one could argue that people have been spinning out false tales about people since humans first walked the earth.
The love story between Antony and Cleopatra is reasonably well done and just managed to keep from being too over dramatic to the point of being unbelievable. The same cannot be said for other parts of the book. In my opinion the author thought of `cool' scenes she wanted to see and couldn't resist writing them no matter how odd or utterly absurd. Cleopatra changes into all sorts of animals and combinations of them and I never did understand exactly what one witch was doing by twisting fates and messing about with invisible threads. I get the basic idea of each character but for me it wasn't executed as well as it could have been. Some of the book is so ridiculous that the reader blinks and step back out of the world the author has created no longer believing the world to be possible.
I was relieved when I finished the book, which isn't a good sign. The author states at the end it's going to be a trilogy, maybe she was joking, I personally hope so. The tone of this review has been quite harsh but I want to be clear that I do admire the author's sheer audacity but ultimately it was not a believable story and I wasn't gripped.