Mara, Daughter of the Nile

Here’s another awesome read.

Mara is a proud and beautiful slave girl who yearns for freedom. In order to gain it, she finds herself playing the dangerous role of double spy for two arch enemies – each of whom supports a contender for the throne of Egypt.

Against her will, Mara finds herself falling in love with one of her masters, the noble Sheftu, and she starts to believe in his plans of restoring Thutmose III to the throne. But just when Mara is ready to offer Sheftu her help and her heart, her duplicity is discovered, and a battle ensues in which both Mara’s life and the fate of Egypt are at stake.

I first read this book in sixth grade, and to this day, it remains one of my favorites. Why is that, you might ask?

1. Mara is such a likeable, relatable character. She wants her freedom, I mean, who wouldn’t? You can forgive her a lot for trying to achieve that goal, even if that means the occasional stealing and more-than-occasional lying. She’s got spunk and courage, and will do what it takes to survive. She’s multilingual, too, which makes her valuable to the spies in Hatshepsut’s court.

2. Sheftu, oh my. He might have been the first mysterious-stranger-with-secrets hero that I ever read. Let me just say you won’t easily forget him. He and Mara have some great scenes together. He may seem ruthless and cruel, but once his heart is involved, well, everything works out for the best, of course.

3. The setting of Ancient Egypt is wonderfully described, but without too much info to make it boring. Looking back at the book, I am kind of confused why Queen Hatshepsut is made into the villain, but I’m more than willing to forgive that since the court politics are intriguing and the story is more about Mara and Sheftu anyway.

4. The writing just sweeps you in: “The city that rose beyond them shimmered, almost drained of color, in the glare of Egyptian noon. Doorways were blue-black in white buildings, alleys were plunged in shadow; the gay colors of the sails and hulls that crowded the harbor seemed faded and indistinct, and even the green of the Nile was overlaid by a blinding surface glitter. Only the sky was vivid, curving in a high blue arch over ancient Menfe.”  Talk about painting a picture!

Grade: A

Experience: Reading this book is like being immersed in Ancient Egypt. The characters are alive and full of passion, the action is intense and sometimes dangerous, and you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next. This is true escapist literature, if you ever want to curl up with a good book and zone out of your own life for a few hours.

Pros: Smart, snappy dialogue; likeable characters; amazing writing

Cons: I only wish the ending wasn’t as abrupt, I wanted more!  Everything gets resolved on literally the last pages, and I would have liked to read a little more about what the characters would do next. It’s probably too late to hope for a sequel. This book was written back in 1953!

Overall: This is the kind of book you can read over and over, like every month or so. It’s that good!