From Goodreads: 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.
(Is that not cool?)
Mara is one of those books that is pure fun to read. All the time you're reading, you're thinking "this is a good story--a lifetime story--this is why I love books". It's spy fiction at its tightest, with tiny clues and grand stakes that all weave together into the delicious combination of suspense that I like to experience. This book has everything from midnight meets to tomb robbing (and breaking the royal seals on the tombs was no joke for an Egyptian).
The characterization gives food for thought, and is far from a rainbow of happiness, but neither is it one of those gut-wrenching tales that leaves you exhausted and glassy-eyed. When I finished, I had the happy, heart-pumping adrenaline of a story well told that didn't try to knock my emotions out of whack at the same time. I was able to do what I love best: read the story without that hangover angst the next day.
The Egyptian culture makes for a unique and beautiful setting. I loved the way McGraw combined the little details of clothing, eye paint, gods, food, and nobility. What made her setting even richer was bringing in a Syrian with completely different culture and value system, and contrasting Mara's love for Egypt with the Syrian Inanni's wariness and disgust. Mara considers Inanni's many shawls frumpy and shapeless, while Inanni considers Mara's sheath-like dress immodest and thin. That's a brilliant way to highlight culture details. The setting alone made me happy. In the midst of my love for countless English/Irish/Scottish tales, having something so gripping set in a very different country like Egypt brought new zest and enchantment to the tale.
In reading K.M. Weiland's Structuring Your Novel over the weekend, I constantly remembered Mara, and was pleased by how classy the author's plotting was. From a reading perspective it's a joy, from a writer's perspective it's an example worth emulating. It never dragged, but neither was the action cheesy. McGraw never went over the top and never undersold herself. It hit all the correct crisis points naturally, and crescendoed up to a whammer of a climax that delivered the 100% punch I wanted. McGraw got away with using four or five POVs, but none of them were confusing. Every writer who has a book with any kind of drama in it should read Mara. I would put it in a writing class, or even a literature program for the quality of it.
|Lotus flowers also featured in the story.|
Last week we learned about an Israeli principle called Pikuach Nefesh. One sect of the Pharisees in the Middle East held that loving God and loving their neighbor were the highest commandments. If you had to lie or break the Sabbath to love your neighbor, then the loving came first. In many ways, Mara makes me think of that, as she makes choices to sacrifice for the spies and king she loves. Though I don't think the author had that principle in mind, and I myself have reservations about it, understanding Pikuach Nefesh helped me process this book as a Christian reader. This is how a poor, non-Christian Egyptian girl would realistically act, and I can respect the consistency of her viewpoint without embracing all of her moral choices.
In spite of the deceit factor, there are certain things the characters will not do, come torture or whipping or death. They act by their moral code, and they respect it, even if they swear by all the gods of Egypt in the process. Two things that shine clear are patriotism and deep sacrifice for the well-being of Egypt.
For readers who like to look out for romance, Mara contains a significant amount. It was a full-blooded, mature romance, not a shallow and saccharine one. But even though it didn't trouble me, some readers may not care for it. :)
In looking at the Amazon reviews, it has over 200 five star reviews and very few negative ones. Most times I view five stars with a wary eye, but this time I am glad. It shows that a lot of people recognize its worth. It may not be a Christian story, but I think it's a story well told, valuable in looking through the eyes of a different culture and belief system. Good quality deserves accolades, and Mara, Daughter of the Nile, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, is a joy of an adventure tale.