The Dagger of Isis

The Backstory

As I researched The First Pharaoh, the opening novel in The First Dynasty Series, I became aware of another amazing story. It turned out that, much to my surprise, there was a woman Pharaoh (although they were actually called kings in those early days).This first woman pharaoh reigned early in the First Dynasty and she was so highly respected she was given a burial place of high honor overlooking a sacred desert mountain pass. I made a casual note to maybe come back to this story at a later time.

When I finished writing The First Pharaoh, I was exhausted. But, after a couple of weeks, something kept nagging at me. Reluctantly, I began to look into this first woman Pharaoh and in short order I was hooked… again! Truthfully, I had wanted to work on a different, contemporary novel, but I simply could not pull away from the remarkable story of Merat-Neith.

I LOVED this book! The Dagger of Isis got me hook, line, and sinker from the very first page. It’s a great book, and could be read as a standalone novel as well- I haven’t read The First Pharaoh, the first book in the trilogy- but I immediately wanted to purchase it because this one is just THAT GOOD.

I’m looking forward to the third book immensely, and would recommend The Dagger of Isis to anyone who is a fan of historical fiction and Ancient Egypt. Jessa Nastasi

In The Dagger of Isis, Book II of the The First Dynasty Series, I trace the life of Meryt-Neith, the first female ruler of a united Egypt (although there are indications that matriarchs may have ruled small tribal villages in Egypt even in the more remote past). The story takes place around 3,100 BC.

From her marriage to King Wadjet to her eventual coronation after his death, The Dagger of Isis is a tale woven of intrigue and betrayal. From her carefree youth, the book follows Meryt-Neith’s unlikely ascension to the throne, the wars she fought to defend the Two Lands, and the loves that gave meaning to her life. This saga takes us on a journey throughout ancient Egypt and into nearby lands, as Meryt-Neith struggles against her evil cousin, Nubiti, the Head Priestess of the Temple of Isis, to bring honor to her family’s dynasty.

The Research

My research for The Dagger of Isis was really started with the first book in the series, The First Pharaoh. By the time I sat down to write that novel I was immersed in the history, customs, culture, foods and medical practices of ancient Egypt circa 3,150 BC. I also felt that I understood the importance of dynasty to the population and how that the dynastic tradition defined the ruling class of this great society.

And so, my research for The Dagger of Isis was confined to whatever I could find out about this legendary ruler, which made the job slightly easier. But, as with most research about that time period, either not much information survived or else the writing systems they used were not yet very sophisticated so they did not bother to record many details. Probably it is a combination of the two.

In a way that allowed me a bit more flexibility in writing The Dagger of Isis. Most Egyptologists believe that Meryt-Neith served as regent for her son, although we do not know the circumstances that brought that about. The best guesses from various sources also indicate that Meryt-Neith ruled for approximately 17 years. In those details I stuck to the factual storyline.

Spinning the Yarn

Writing The Dagger of Isis was pure joy, for many reasons. First, I love a strong protagonist and the fact that my protagonist was a woman gave it extra special cache to me. I also knew that I would need an equally strong antagonist, and I think I found her in Nubiti (and her henchman, Bakht). It took me about seven months to spin the yarn into a first draft, but several more months to take it through several revisions.

I think people tend to romanticize ancient Egyptian society. There is no doubt that life was difficult in those times. Few peasants had teeth left after a lifetime of eating bread laden with sand. Medical knowledge was rudimentary. Myths and fears were pervasive. Lifespans were short.

Yet, the more I understand about ancient cultures, the more remarkable ancient Egyptian society appears to me. Knowledge was respected, as was the written word. Traditions and order mattered greatly. A legal system developed that afforded a measure of protection to all citizens. Women were respected and given certain rights even from the earliest dynasties.

With this in mind, I hope that you enjoy The First Dynasty Series. I look forward to your comments.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long did it take you to write The Dagger of Isis?

From start to finish, about nine months.

Where did the idea come from?

Once I had completed The First Pharaoh about King Narmer and his struggles to unite Upper and Lower Egypt into one lasting kingdom, I knew the tale wasn’t over. In my research and in visits to Egypt, I learned about an incredible woman, Meryt-Neith, who served as regent king for her son after the death of her husband. She was highly revered by her people and the power brokers since she was given a prominent tomb in a very holy place. I knew I had to tell her story.

Are the details all true?

While we know some things about Meryt-Neith’s life there was simply not enough detail around which I felt I could weave a compelling story. In a way that was a blessing, since I did not feel constrained by historical fact. This is, after all, historical fiction.

What kind of research did you do?

Of course, in researching and writing The First Pharaoh I had already done quite a bit of research. I have had the privilege of visiting Egypt before and actually seeing the sites about which I would eventually write.

I also did a great deal of reading and Internet research, corresponding with experts and actually visiting with experts like Dr. Toby Wilkinson of Cambridge University, England.

I’m an inveterate researcher and have to stop myself at some point in order to actually start writing.

Was Meryt-Neith real?

Most definitely so. She was real and respected. Her tomb is placed in such a way as to have access to a holy rift between two small desert mountains. This rift was considered a divine passage to the next life.

Meryt-Neith ruled for about 17 years, until her son was old enough to become King in his own right.

Was Wadjet (Djet) real?

Yes. He is recorded as a First Dynasty King and was buried in a tomb in Abydos. We also know his reign was short-lived and that Meryt-Neith succeeded him. The line of succession was Narmer, Hor-Aha, Djer (Wadjer), Djet (Wadjet), Meryt-Neith, Den (Wadjden).

What about Nubiti and Bakht?

Novelists have to conjure up characters to challenge our protagonists and spur them on to growth and great accomplishments. That was the genesis of Nubiti and Bakht. However, they are based on real characters, traits that are universal, and/or events that are in the historical record at some point in Egypt’s long and glorious history.

Surely Herihor was real?

Yes, no and maybe. It is certainly likely that all the early kings had a military chief to take care of armed struggles. This role became more formalized as Egypt matured. So, I extrapolated back from what we know from the historical record in later dynasties to my creation of the Herihor character.

Did women really enjoy certain rights in ancient Egypt?

That is absolutely true. Even from early times women had the right to initiate divorce, to run their own businesses, to inherit and disburse their assets. And these are only some of the rights enjoyed by women. That is not to say that women were viewed as equal to men, but they did have certain basic protections and legal rights.

I’d like to learn more about the First Dynasty period. Can you recommend some books and/or articles?

For those of you bitten by the bug that is ancient Egypt, I can assure you there is no cure. However, I recommend the following books as a starting point if you want to delve deeper into the topic.

Early Dynastic Egypt by Toby A. H. Wilkinson (Routledge, 1999).

Genesis of the Pharaohs by Toby Wilkinson (Thames & Hudson, 2003).

What Life Was Like On The Banks of the Nile by The Editors (Time-Life Books, undated).

Egypt Before the Pharaohs by Michael A. Hoffman (Barnes & Noble Books, 1993).

Chronicles of the Pharaohs by Peter A. Clayton (Thames & Hudson, 1994).

Bedouin Life in the Egyptian Wilderness by Joseph J. Hobbs (University of Texas Press, 1989).

Egyptian Women of the Old Kingdom by Henry George Fischer (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989).

Egypt: The World of the Pharaohs, Edited by Regine Schulz and Matthias Seidel (Konemann Publishers, 2011)

I welcome your suggestions of other books to add to this list. Please write to me with the full citation. Please indicate if you wish me to use your name as the referring source.

More questions?

If you have other questions about The Dagger of Isis please feel free to write me.

The Dagger of Isis

Readers’ Guide

  1. Where does the title come from?

  2. Could things have worked out differently for Nubiti’s and Meryt-Neith’s relationship?

  3. Did Meryt-Neith’s near rape at the beginning of the book affect her in any way for the rest of her life?

  4. How did King Narmer’s unseen presence affect the characters?

  5. One of the aspects of ancient Egyptian life was the legal rights given to women, including the right to initiate divorce proceedings, to own a business, and to inherit property. Did learning that in the novel surprise you?

  6. Would Nubiti have turned out the way she did without her mother’s influence?

  7. How would you characterize the relationship between Nubiti and Bakht?

  8. The mid-East even today is riven by tribal loyalties and conflicts. Much of that cultural influence dates back to the time before Meryt-Neith. How does Bakht’s priesthood reinforce that tribal culture?

  9. In the preface, Nubiti says: “Anubis, I am Nubiti, half-sister of King Wadjet and daughter of Shepsit and King Djer. Before your scales I swear that my heart is light as a feather. Before you lay the scrolls of my life as told to my scribes. Please do not judge Meryt-Neith’s actions harshly. Allow my sister to visit with me in the Afterlife. My words are Truth.” Does this reveal anything about Nubiti’s character?

  10. In the preface, Meryt-Neith says: “I am Meryt-Neith, Queen of the Two Lands, loyal wife of King Wadjet and mother of King Den, son of King Wadjet, son of King Djer, son of King Hor-Aha, son of the god-King Narmer. I swear before you, Anubis, that these scrolls are the True Telling of My Life. I was a good niece, a good wife and good mother. I was the caretaker of our beloved Kem until my son, King Den, came of age. I beg you to be lenient toward the sins of my sister, Nubiti, so that she may enjoy the rewards of the Afterlife. I await your judgment.” What does this reveal about Meryt-Neith’s character?

  11. Who was responsible for the tragedy of Meryt-Neith’s and Ti-Ameny’s relationship?

  12. Did Nubiti gain any lasting lessons from her father’s death?

  13. Was Meryt-Neith a good mother? Was she overly protective? What were the most important life lessons she imparted to Zenty?

  14. Does the Apep priesthood bear any resemblance to modern-day conditions in the Middle East? In what ways?

  15. Did Meryt-Neith make the right choice in exiling Nubiti to Abu Island?

  16. How would you characterize Herihor’s relationship with Zenty? Who gained the most from their relationship?

  17. Some Egyptologists believe that the first Egyptians were dark-skinned tribesmen from what is now Sudan. Whether or not that is true, early Egyptians interacted with their southern neighbors frequently. Did any aspects of Nekau’s relationship with the Royal Court surprise you?

  18. Why did Meryt-Neith call Nubiti to her death bed?

  19. What did Meryt-Neith mean on her death bed when she said to Nubiti: “It is alright. I have seen it. All is forgiven.”