Nefertiti’s Heart by A. W. Exley

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I read this book…. way back last year in November. It was part of SPFBO 3 and I didn’t get around to reviewing it. I had a really bad habit of moving onto the next book before reviewing the previous book and it snowballed into 47 reviews that got delayed.

This book will appeal most to people who like Victorian steampunk fantasy with heavy romance elements.


 

You meet the main character, Kara, right after the death of her father. He was an archaeologist and had a habit of collecting rare and very valuable artifacts. She’s rummaging through his things when she finds his notebook with the names and locations of his entire collection.

While at her father’s house she’s ambushed by two men who also want the notebook, they threaten her and try to take it from her, but she gets the upper hand on them. She has been abused in the past and is always fearful of someone hurting her again – so she never goes anywhere without her pistols. She shoots both of the intruders but keeps them alive so they can send a message back to their master – the message being not to steal from her and if he’s interested in the artefacts a business deal can be struck like proper civilized people.

The thugs master, Lord Lions, responds to her message and asks her to meet with him, she tells him no, that she would prefer to do it elsewhere – but he tells her there will be a carriage waiting outside her house at 8pm every night until she says yes. He’s a distant and cold person with an unreadable face, he never shows what he’s feeling and doesn’t put much inflexion into his voice. He’s also accustomed to getting everything his way, denials and refusals aren’t something he’s used to hearing and it irks him and also intrigues him that Kara tells him no repeatedly.

The next part is where things go wrong for me in the romance plotline – Lord Lions wants to “teach her how to be touched” again. Kara was sold by her father at age 14 to a nobleman in exchange for gambling debts. She was horrifically abused, whipped, beaten, and raped, as a result, she hates physical contact even between women. He tells her that he can fix it and wants to be the one to take her into his bed willingly, and not as a scared abused girl. Her response was negative, but she continues to work with this guy and the romance progresses. There’s a lot of foreplay scenes where he’s teaching her how to kiss – he thinks it’s a tragedy she’s never been kissed before. There are also multiple sex scenes, so if that’s not your bag I’d skip this one. I couldn’t find any redeeming qualities about this guy, and he’s so controlling and weird about everything I just couldn’t get behind this plotline. I would have told this guy to fuck off when he announced with certainty he was going to sleep with me, and despite the fact he’s “shared women with his friends” in the past, I’m somehow “special” and he’s not going to “share” me. Just, no.

There is, fortunately, another plotline involving mysterious murders of the upper crust of society. There are side chapters from the murderer’s POV as he’s abducting and killing women, he’s searching for his long lost “Nefertiti” and believes if he can find the right girl he can bring back his love. He thinks that they can live together in eternal life, and stabs them through the heart with a brass key, looking to unlock the heart of Nefertiti.

Because Kara’s father dies under suspicious circumstances (exotic snake bite from an Egyptian species) she rockets to the top of the police’s suspect list. She’s being dogged by the constable and is being questioned not only about her father’s murder but the murder of the young women.

Kara is ostracized from society after her rape, she’s considered to be soiled and unsavory company. One of the only exceptions to this is her friend Amy, who tells her it’s not her fault and continues to be a steadfast friend. Since Kara has already been rejected by her peers she drops some of the manners that would be expected of the upper class. Ie: she licks her fingers clean at a public restaurant and gives 0 fucks. She’s also a boxer, taking up lessons after being abused. She’s absolutely determined not to be taken advantage of again, and so she rebuilds herself into a very capable woman able to take down multiple male thugs.

The world building in this has a bunch of steampunk elements, from unique clocks to mechanical horses that draw carriages, to airships that fly over the Atlantic, and exoskeletons for the soldiers. There’s also a strict social hierarchy and the typical societal norms and manners that go along with Victorian society. There isn’t ‘magic’ in the normal sense, there aren’t any spells or wards or anything of that nature, so it reads almost as a historical fantasy.

The writing is very descriptive, especially when talking about other people’s appearances – their clothing, their hair, their poise etc. There’s also a lot of female-gaze, and like male gaze, I’m not a fan. I guess I really just don’t care how hot one character thinks another character is – it’s just not that interesting to me. The writing was, however, well done, there were no spelling or grammar errors that I found, and the writing itself flowed.

This was more of a slower paced book with a lot of emphasis on character interactions, particularly Kara and Lord Lions. There aren’t battles or fight scenes or anything like that, it’s a murder mystery book that had an even medium pace throughout.

Overall, I can’t say that I personally enjoyed this one – but I can see how others who love romance might. I think if the romance was approached differently I would have enjoyed it more. If say, Lord Lions was a nice person who was working on Kara’s issues with her at her own pace instead of using “favors” to get to touch her I would have really liked this book.

Audience:

For people who like:

  • romance fantasy
  • steampunk
  • Victorian
  • pistol wielding female MC
  • historical/low fantasy
  • descriptive writing
  • murder mystery

Ratings:

  • Plot: 11/15
  • Characters: 12/15
  • World Building: 12/15
  • Writing: 12/15
  • Pacing: 11/15
  • Originality: 11/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 3/10

Final Score: 72/100

 

 

 

3 comments

  1. wow. the entire “romance” plot line sounds less like romance and more like he’s going to pester her and harass her and nag her until she agrees to sleep with him. apparently to this guy “no” means “maybe later”? creepy.

    1. it was pretty strange. he’s never outright ‘abusive’ but sure as shit wouldn’t go near anyone like this.

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