Karen Ireland-Phillips's Reviews > Mara, Daughter of the Nile

Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
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's review
Dec 31, 2011

really liked it

This is the book that triggered my interest in Ancient Egypt, when I was 10 or 11*. (I eventually learned much history and how to read hieroglyphics, a skill that's rusted from disuse.) I knew the book existed, I remembered reading it but not the title or author, or enough of the plot to go looking for it. Luckily, it was mentioned in a book discussion in C. J. Cherryh's Wave Without A Shore website, allowing me to find and re-read it. [return]Set during the reign of Hatshepsut, the Pharoah Queen, Mara is a beautiful, willful, blue-eyed(!) slave who can speak Babylonian in addition to her native Egyptian. This skill leads to her purchase by an agent of the Queen for a job that may lead to her freedom. Mara is to serve as the interpreter to a Babylonian wife chosen by Hatshepsut for her half-brother, Thutmose, while also serving as a spy to discover who is providing communication and support – and how - for Thutmose’s plan to overthrow Hatshepsut. En route to this assignment, Mara meets the compelling young noble Sheftu , and is caught precipitously in the role of double agent, serving both the Pharoah and her brother. [return]Romance, danger, misunderstandings and high drama ensue. I can’t discuss the plot in any detail without spoilers, but stalwart Sheftu undertakes a massively dangerous errand to bankroll Thutmose’s rebellion, leading to the revelation of Mara’s double role. [return]Sometimes returning to the books of your childhood can be dangerous. The first thing that struck me was the casual misogyny and stereotyped roles of the three major female characters. Of course Hatshepsut isn’t fit to be Pharoah – she’s a woman, it offends the gods. Not only that, she spends too much money and wages too few wars. There’s disproportionate emphasis on physical beauty. The Babylonian princess is fat and therefore disgusting, redeemed only by her cleverness in the last few chapters. The women are all schemers – conniving being presented as an integral part of the female psyche. Classism and racism are rampant too, of course.[return]The second issue is how fast and loose McGraw played with the actual history. Hatshepsut was not overthrown; her rule made important military, economic and diplomatic contributions to Egypt. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatsheps... final surprise was the prominence of the romantic storyline. I’m all admiration for how smoothly McGraw pulled me into the drama of the romance; the dance of do they/don’t they as the story unfolds and Mara must choose her very dangerous path. [return]This is a simplistic but not unsophisticated quick read. It is a YA, but with some fairly adult overtones. Definitely worth reading. [return]*I was pretty precocious.

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