Manuela’s Review of “Nefertiti’s Heart” by A.W. Exley

By: Manuela Soares

TW/CW: Potential readers, please be aware that this book makes several mentions of sexual assault and physical abuse against an underage girl, a few scenes of sexual nature (adults), and features varying degrees of violence throughout.

So, this book was not what I expected based on the summary. Yes, it has an ancient Egyptian aspect, but I was expecting more of a Lara Croft/Indiana Jones/Firefly-esqe (maybe even throw in a bit of The Mummy (Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz version, of course)) type of story. The summary didn’t mention the steampunk aspect; though I suppose that the cover alludes to it, you would have to recognize it for what it is. I’m not familiar with steampunk, so I can’t say how accurate this book’s descriptions and integration of it is, but I enjoyed what the author did here. The first few chapters were really good and set up what I thought was going to be a great mystery, but it went downhill for me. 

There are two plots in the story: a mystery plot and a “romance” plot. They interweave and alternate throughout the story, but at the same time, they don’t move the story forward as a whole. It’s not until the end that they intersect and become one. It honestly feels more like a “romance” with a side of mystery, rather than what should be a mystery with a side of romance based on the summary. I put romance in quotes because there are a lot of things between the two love interests that have red flags popping up left, right, and center, which will be somewhat explained below.

*SPOILERS AHEAD!*

Character-wise, there are some unrealistic/unbelievable elements to them, especially the main character Cara. Cara is a girl sold by her father, who was a Grade A prick, at 14 to pay a debt (instead of giving up one of his precious artifacts he had collected), where she was sexually and physically assaulted by the man she was sold to before she attacked him and got away. She returned home only to be beaten to near-death by her father, surviving only because her grandmother appeared and saved her. Those events took place 7 years before the beginning of the story. For obvious reasons, she doesn’t like being touched. That part is easily believable and realistic; that amount of trauma, even with therapy, would be incredibly difficult to recover from, even more so considering that this takes place in Victorian, England. The unrealistic/believable aspect is brought in by the love interest, Nathaniel, and the interactions between the two.

Nathaniel or Nate, as he goes by, is Viscount Lyons (or villainous viscount as the summary states), and he is portrayed as this dark, cold, and calculating character, which to an extent he is, but as the story progresses it comes out that he’s had a thing for Cara since he was a teenager/young adult and saw her in the park up a tree and acting wild, refusing to come down. Nate is super pushy and agrees to help Cara for a lesser cut of payment for selling her father’s artifacts, so long as he can touch her; he doesn’t listen when she says no. This entire “relationship” is bonkers. It happens over a very short amount of time (days and weeks), and it goes from her never wanting to be touched to having sex up a tree with this guy.

As for Cara herself, at first, she came across as this badass, needs no one, can take care of herself woman. In the first chapter, she shot two men who worked for Nate and broke into her father’s house as she was searching/destroying it, setting her up to be this awesome heroine. But as the story unfolds, she comes across as very indecisive at times, needs saving on multiple occasions, and despite always being armed, she only uses her weapons once in the beginning. After that, she just uses them as a scare tactic.

*SPOILERS END*

Now, aside from the romance aspect, the mystery was all right. Spaced between trying to decipher her father’s logbook of all the artifacts he collected and then selling them off, there’s murder afoot in the gentry! Young upper-class ladies are being murdered, and the gentry is in a panic. Readers get insight from the killer along the way, showing why they’re killing (hint: it ties in with an artifact named after the book’s title!). Admittedly, the killer wasn’t a surprise with how the author set it up, but the ending was all right and a bit strange.

Overall, this was a 2.5-3 star read for me. It was okay, but it didn’t blow my mind, and it had me concerned and wondering WTF on several occasions. It’s the first book in a series, so it’s likely that the events in this one set up things for the rest, which is why some things may not make full sense. It’s not a bad read, and if you’re a fan of romance with a bit of a mystery based in a steampunk world, this may be for you.

This review is also posted on Goodreads.

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