ARC Review: Egypt's Golden Couple: When Akhenaten and Nefertiti Were Gods On Earth


Egypt's Golden Couple: When Akhenaten and Nefertiti Were Gods On Earth by John Darnell and Colleen Darnell

Egypt’s Golden Couple takes on the story of the Pharaoh Akhenaten and his Queen, Nefertiti. Besides their son, Tutankhamun, they are likely the most well known figures of ancient Egypt. That’s pretty amazing, as their son, and the next Pharaohs after him wrote the “golden couple” out of the official history of kingly succession after their deaths, and they were all but forgotten until the rediscovery of Akhenaten’s  capital city Akhetaten (today known as Amarna) in the early 1700s. A tomb purported to contain the mummy of Akhenaten was found in 1907.

The Pharaoh Amunhotep IV took the name Akhenaten after ascending the throne. He is known for his singular devotion to the Egyptian sun god Aten, also known by many other names (‘Re’ being probably the best known). What set Akhenaten apart was that he ignored the other gods and goddesses of Egyptian cosmology publicly and officially, proclaiming Aten the only god worthy of worship. 

The capital city he founded was placed where he claimed Aten told him to put it, and had temples only to Aten. Furthermore, Akhenaten positioned himself as the living embodiment of Aten, with his wife Nefertiti as the female embodiment of the god. In essence, he elevated his family to the status of gods.

The book makes the case that this was the outgrowth of a growing worship of the sun god, and an association of the sun god with the Pharaoh. But it’s not known how well followed or how well received Akhenaten’s singular sun god worship was outside of his capital city. We do know that after his death, having been Pharaoh for 17 years, his religious direction fell out of favor and he and his family had their tombs purposely defaced and their bodies moved from their original tombs and into hidden locations.

All of that is the background information the book draws on.

The authors state, in a YouTube video promoting the book, that they want to show how we know what we know about Akhenaten and Nefertiti - for what can we actually know about people who lived 3000 years ago? A number of theories have been posited about the golden couple, and the authors feel that many of them lack a real basis in the evidence available to us. So, this is their attempt to write a “biography” of the golden couple based on only the facts that can be established by the extant information from archeological digs and recovered writings and artifacts.

The result is dry and a bit of a jumble, but I will say that it improves as you move through it. 

The book is divided into five sections, and the first three rely more heavily on “reconstructions” of events from the lives of the couple, their family and their predecessors to the throne. Interspersed between these reconstructions are chapters that try to convey more context around the reconstructed scenes. 

Because they are sticking to only what can actually be known, these reconstructions are set in known places, depict known buildings and architecture, and are based on known writings. There are not enough knowns to write about the entire lives of the couple, and that explains the jumble, as the book jumps from one scene to another. 

While that could be forgiven, the scenes themselves are simple stage pieces, and the players on the stage are wooden and lacking in personality. That’s because we have no idea what their personalities actually were - there are no records or known facts to convey how the golden couple really felt or acted. The authors, Egyptologists by profession, try not to stray too far into historical fiction. That decision robs these scenes of any meaningful depth, making for a hard slog for the reader. Which I’m sure is quite the opposite of what the authors intended.

In the last two sections of the book these “day in the life” scenes become further and further apart, and the archaeology and interpretation of ancient writings and artifacts takes center stage. Here the authors seem much more in their element and the writing improves as a result. While I slogged through the start of the book, and had to put it down for a while to take a break from it, I sped through the last two sections, and enjoyed them much more. 

If you are interested in picking this book up, I’d recommend the physical book or ebook over the audiobook version. The illustrations in those versions help to get you through the slog, and so far as I can tell there is no available online set of illustrations to accompany the audiobook.

RATING: I’d give the first part Two Stars and the second part is close to a Four, so an overall rating of Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐

As an aside, the authors are a married couple who seem to be a bit eccentric. Be sure to look up her Instagram account. And, if you poke around on Google you’re sure to come across the story of how they met, which you might perhaps see as romantic or (as I do given my time working in a university setting) somewhat alarming.

NOTE: I received an advanced copy of this book from St Martin’s Press and NetGalley, and am voluntarily providing this review. The book went on sale November 1, 2022.

Steve's Book Stuff participates in affiliate programs for the booksellers asterisked below.  Purchases you make through an affiliate link will return a small commission to me, at no additional cost to you. 

Borrow or Purchase Egypt’s Golden Couple here:

📙  Borrow this book: Find out if your library has the ebook or audiobook available through OverDrive or Libby.

📘 Buy this book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Powell’s | AbeBooks* | ThriftBooks 

📗 Support Indie Bookstores: Buy this book directly from* or find an Independent Bookstore near you*

📚 Visit my shop to see all my reviewed books. 

Title: Egypt’s Golden Couple: When Akhenaten and Nefertiti Were Gods on Earth

Author: John Darnell and Colleen Darnell

Publisher: St Martin’s Press

Publish Date: November 1, 2022

ISBN-13: 9781250272874

Publisher’s List Price: $29.99 Hardcover (as of 11/2022)