Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book Review: Mara, Daughter of the Nile

Though she has lived as a slave in Egypt for as long as she can remember, young Mara was not always so. She has no recollection of her parents, but she can speak Babylonian--a gift that serves her well. She is also quick-tempered, quick-witted, and has an independent streak that frequently brings trouble from her exasperated master. She longs to be free--and rich--so she can do as she pleases.

Mara's life takes a dramatic turn one day when she is purchased from her master by a mysterious nobleman who has seen her antics in the marketplace of Memphis. Placed on a boat to Thebes by her new master, she is to become part of a palace intrigue to discover the identity of the traitors plotting against Hatshepsut, queen and Pharaoh of Egypt. But her trip up the Nile will lead her in yet another direction as she meets Sheftu, a dashing and handsome nobleman who has plans of his own.

Having read The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, Mara, Daughter of the Nile is the perfect follow-up. Written on a more sophisticated level with more mature themes and characters, Mara is a quick and absorbing read. The book is well suited for younger readers age 14 and up, though it will probably appeal more to the young ladies than the gents. There is a romantic element to the book that I suspect many boys will find off-putting, though McGraw handles it tactfully and tastefully--nothing like a modern romance novel.

As with The Golden Goblet, the history was well presented and the reader feels instantly immersed in the life of ancient Egypt. The writing flows well and the plot is well conceived, particularly the various conspiracies and the development of Mara from her starting point as a self-centered, petulant teen. My only criticism of the book concerned the ending which seemed a bit ill-conceived. [Warning: Spoiler!] Having been beaten within an inch of her life, Mara nonetheless manages to make charming banter with Sheftu and there is the equivalent of a "happily-ever-after" love scene. It reminded me of similarly unsatisfactory endings from some Hollywood dramas of the 1950s.

That aside, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it for older kids who have an interest in ancient Egypt.