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REVIEW: Mara – Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis...

Dear Readers,

I bought myself a copy of this book last year when I got “Catherine, Called Birdy.” I read “Birdy” but somehow “Mara” got set to the side and it drifted out of my mind. For years I’d heard it mentioned with enthusiasm by everyone who commented on it. With people looking for unusual historical settings and reading YA, I thought now would be a great time to give it a whirl.

MaraIt’s YA but Mara is not a sweet, gentle Disney Princess type of heroine. She’s not going to be helped by her pet friends Sobie the Crocodile and Anubie the Jackal. No, no. She’s smart, sarcastic and totally in favor of “Me, Myself and I.” She is her number one priority if only because, as an orphan slave, she has no one else who cares for her and if she doesn’t look out for No 1 then no one else will.

Who could blame her for grabbing it when she gets what she feels is the chance of a lifetime? A little spying, a little reporting of said spying, possibly having to use her sharp wits a time or two and she will have earned her freedom from slavery and a tidy amount of money to begin her new life. But just when she thinks she’s already got her problem solved and can count her golden deben, fate twists her dreams and gives her another schemer she has to answer to. Only this one is working for the other side. Mara has to use her intelligence and quick thinking to follow the bare bones instructions given to her by both of the men trying to pull her strings. Mara has her work cut out for her to keep her stories straight and all the players separate as she initially plays one side against the other with her death as a reward should she screw up.

The details of ancient Egypt come to life. I especially love the descriptions of the buildings of Thebes, the magnificent Golden palace of Pharaoh and the brilliant color washes of the sunrises and sunsets. Mara sees her homeland anew as she watches a foreigner come to know it. I hope Canaanite Princess Inanni gets to go home after all the drama ended. All of this isn’t just surface embellishment but is woven in the story. Sheftu goes on a heart stopping trip to the Dark River to gain the gold needed to fund the rebellion. It’s not terrifying merely because it’s dangerous to tomb rob but because for these people, doing this was the worst sin of their world. “Mara” conveys that these people truly believed in their gods and their universe and it’s done in a way that isn’t patronizing to their beliefs. Another favorite section of mine is the night scene watched over by Nuit – the Goddess of the Sky who causes stars to twinkle when she blinks.

The romance grows slowly and not always smoothly but the connection is shown from early on. Mara is a worldly wise 17 year old in an age when people would mature more quickly still kisses is as far as things go here. She’s been on her own for as long as she can remember with no one to care for her, so when she finally, reluctantly, starts to feel something for Lord Sheftu it seems natural that she has mixed emotions. Sheftu can slide from hot headed, rebel rouser through smooth talking young Lord to weary conspirator in the blink of an eye. Mara has to learn not only his moods but come to believe in the uprising he’s selling before the path of her future is all clear to her.

One thing that disappointed me was the view of Hatshepsut as nothing more than a greedy, scheming throne stealer more interested in the monuments to her own glory than her country. Hapshetsut is now seen as a good ruler who kept peace and expanded trade routes but young men are all about war and military might so it’s understandable how Sheftu and Thutmose would see Hatshepsut as they do. I wonder if the fact that the book was written in the early 1950s when women were being pushed back into traditional roles after WWII explains how Hapshetsut was shown.

To me the main issue of the book is not really to be a romance. It’s more about Mara discovering a cause more important than her own needs, discovering family and a connection to others. Learning that it’s not just all about “me.” She does get her romance and her man but she gains so much more than that. She gains a sense of place and a sense of her own worth. B

~Jayne

 

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

15 Comments

  1. Blythe Gifford
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 08:11:28

    I read this when I was a “YA” age and loved it so much that I sought it out later (much later!) to put on my keeper shelf. Reread it and still thought it was wonderful. Thanks for shining the spotlight on one of my all time favorite books!

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  2. Jayne
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 08:32:13

    @Blythe Gifford: I can totally see why it’s still such a popular YA novel so many years after it was published. Mara is a strong person and not dumbed down to get her romance.

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  3. LG
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 09:37:09

    I loved this book when I was a teen and still liked it on a recent reread. I had issues with the romance during both my reads of the book, but I love Mara, and the spying stuff is great (and not defanged for younger readers).

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  4. hapax
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 10:00:05

    While watching the people of Egypt force Mubarak out of office, I remembered loving this book from my teens and sought it out again.

    I fell in love with it all over; as you noted, Mara is a marvellous heroine, and all the secondary characters (with the exception of Hatshepsut — although I did like how Hatshepsut retained her pride and dignity to the end) are vivid and memorable.

    Of course, real life has proven that the political situation in Egypt is more complicated than it appeared, and history says the same of Hatshepsut and Thutmose. But it is hard not to believe in pure idealism and true love when I read of Mara’s courage and Sheftu’s anguish.

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  5. Fran S.
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 10:30:23

    I totally agree with the disappointment over Hatsheput. I’m not an Egyptian scholar, but after her reign they tried to wipe her from the record, so I’m guessing that had some bearing on her interpretation for a while. When I learned about her, approximately six years ago, she was given a very positive spin. Actually we read Mara in conjunction with our Egypt unit, so maybe they highlighted her accomplishments to dull her awful scheming ways in the story.

    That being said, I absolutely adore this book!! And I’m excited to see it here. Thanks for the thoughtful review!

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  6. Melanie
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 11:00:11

    I haven’t read this in awhile, and I agree about how good it is. Though I didn’t read it as a teenager, I read a lot of YA, and found it about eight or nine years ago. Thanks for reminding me about Mara; I think it’s time for a reread.

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  7. Ducky
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 11:54:23

    I never read this one but I read an old one from the Sixties by her, called “Greensleeves”, which I loved and which costs an outrageous amount of money on amazon when I looked it up.

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  8. Darlene Marshall
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 13:11:25

    Thank you for reviewing one of my favorite novels of all time. When I was in the sixth grade I wore my copy out, many years later as an adult I purchased myself another one, re-read it, and enjoyed it all over again. I also loved The Golden Goblet, her other Egypt set mystery/adventure for young people. McGraw was truly a great writer, and Mara was a memorable heroine.

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  9. Laura Florand
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 14:09:32

    Oh, Mara! I loved this book, my favorite by McGraw. My only problem with it was my usual problem with books from those days–I wanted more time on the romance! :) Thanks for highlighting a great book. I love it when you bring back the classics.

    Have you ever done Sally Watson or Elizabeth Pope? The Hornet’s Nest & Witch of the Glen (Sally Watson) and Perilous Gard & Sherwood Ring (Pope) are a few more of these classics that impacted a lot of us, I think. But I can’t remember if I’ve brought them up before. (Has anyone else read them?)

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  10. Jayne
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 14:29:05

    @Laura Florand: I’ve been looking for “The Hornet’s Nest” but it’s out of print and hard to find. I don’t remember if you’ve mentioned Pope to me before. You probably have and I just didn’t write it down.

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  11. hapax
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 16:38:59

    Mary Stewart’s TOUCH NOT THE CAT is another great swoony classic.

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  12. Cate
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 17:14:28

    I love,love,love this book ….. It lives very happily with my keepers, and comes out for a read every now and again .

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  13. Louise B
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 19:21:02

    I have given copies of Mara to all my nieces as they came of age–and to my sons, who told me “That wasn’t bad.” This book started my lifelong fascination with ancient Egypt and led me to (among other things) Amelia Peabody. I find it interesting how determined people are that the viewpoint of Hatshepsut is so wrong in Mara. She is the pharaoh, and these are characters living in her time. It’s no more odd that rebels wouldn’t like her than that Frenchmen did like Napoleon.

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  14. Chris Eboch
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 23:56:28

    If you’d like to see another middle grade (age 9+) novel about ancient Egypt, my book The Eyes of Pharaoh is a mystery set in ~1350 BC. No romance, but a temple dancer heroine who tries to find a missing friend with the help of a young toy maker. Info and sample chapters at http://www.chriseboch.com.

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  15. Marumae
    Jul 30, 2013 @ 00:39:35

    A good friend of mine and Egyptian historian buff LOVES this book but says her only quibbles were over the (recent) discoveries with Hatshepsut, I’ve been meaning to read it for years. :)

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