Ancient History: Mara, Daughter of the Nile

This week, we’ll be looking at several books that deal with ancient history–including Greek and Roman culture.  Toward that end,  I asked our intern, Hayley Schoeppler, to review one of her favorite “classic” novels dealing with the subject.  Happily, she obliged with this short and sweet review of one of her favorites, Mara, Daughter of the Nile.

Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw.  Puffin, 1985.  Ages 12-up.

maraReaders of The Golden Goblet will know that Eloise Jarvis McGraw can weave an excellent tale of historical fiction taking place in Egypt. What they may not realize is that she wrote another story for older readers, Mara, Daughter of the Nile.

As Mara, Daughter of the Nile opens, Hatshepsut is pharaoh. A powerful woman who claims divine right to the throne, she pours money into lavish projects. Meanwhile the army is neglected and unrest threatens Egyptian borders.

Into this enters Sheftu, a trusted favorite of the queen who is secretly plotting against her. He will go to all ends to have Hatshepsut deposed from the throne in favor of her brother, Thutmose. In Thutmose, Sheftu sees a leader who will truly serve Egypt. Sheftu leads a double life, most know him as a pampered court official. But some know him as Sashai, a scribe who is weaving together a band of rebels willing to rise against Hatshepsut.

Caught in this deadly game of intrigue, Mara enters Hatshepsut’s court serving as translator for a Babylonian princess. A young slave girl, Mara is one of only a handful who know Sheftu in both of his roles. Drawn together by a twisting, turning series of events, Mara and Sheftu begin to feel an attraction toward each other. For Mara though, quick-witted and quick-tongued, love is a foreign concept. The only constant she knows from a shifting world of slave masters and drudgery is self-preservation. What is more, Mara holds a secret that could wreck Sheftu’s hopes and ruin all of his plans but in the process lead to her freedom.

Told with a shifting narrative, Mara, Daughter of the Nile, is much more than a romantic tale of two lovers. Rather, it is an exciting, fast-paced story that explores friendship, love, trust, and loyalty to one’s country. Much of this is shown as Mara gradually realizes that there is much more to life than seeking her own happiness. For Sheftu, disillusioned by the way loyalty can be bought, comes the realization that true loyalty cannot be purchased. Values, virtues, and character are on display as the story unfolds. In the end, Mara and Sheftu’s love for each other does not conquer all obstacles. Instead it is their love for a higher thing, in this case, Egypt, that will ultimately bring them together.

Worldview/Moral Value: 4 (out of 5)

Literary Value: 4.5

Thanks, Hayley! We’ll be covering more fun reads about ancient history later in the week, but I wonder if you guys have any favorites?  I’d love to add some to my library queue!

If you’re looking for more fun history reads for kids, try our Shakespeare post, Growing Up Shakespearean.  Or read about a great Dickens-related novel in The Best of Toms.  And for today–Monday, March 4–only, I have to recommend this super sale of the Lamplighter audiobooks and ebooks for kids. 

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10 Comments

  1. Jennifer on March 4, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    I remember reading Mara, Daugher of the Nile and The Golden Goblet several years ago and enjoying both. Kind of makes me want to reread Mara since I know more Egyptian history now then I did then. I also remember reading The Second Mrs. Gioconda by E.L. Konigsburg, a book about Leonardo da Vinci and his apprentice, though I can’t remember how much historical detail was in it. Then there is The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly, based in medieval Poland. And The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter about William Wallace.

    • emily on March 4, 2013 at 4:50 pm

      Those sound great, Jennifer! I would love for my kids to read some of the ones you mention when they’re a little older. Will have to keep them in mind!

  2. Sunny on March 4, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Thanks for the review! Could you comment on the age recommendation? Is there a particular reason it would not be appropriate for younger kids? My daughter (9) loves Egyptian history and fiction!

  3. Betsy on March 5, 2013 at 5:59 am

    I read The Golden Goblet this past year and really enjoyed it! I have a young friend (around age 9) who read Mara, so perhaps it’s a reading level issue and not a maturity issue for the age recommendation? (I haven’t read Mara, so I don’t know)

  4. Hayley on March 5, 2013 at 8:50 am

    Sunny, that’s a good question! There is nothing in Mara that would make it inappropriate for a 9 year-old, but I believe that it would be enjoyed more by an older child due to the romantic theme. (I remember around 12, I was happy to get my hands on any good historical fiction that had some romance!) Still, if she loves Ancient Egypt, I’m sure that she would enjoy this story. Has she read The Golden Goblet?

  5. Sunny on March 5, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Thanks Betsy and Hayley! She has read the Golden Goblet and thoroughly enjoyed it. Her reading level is quite high, so that’s not an issue. As a result, I have to keep an eye out for other potential issues (too much romance, violence, etc). Thanks for the input!

  6. Christina on March 7, 2013 at 8:44 am

    We are studying ancient history next year in homeschool and I’d love a recommendation for boys if you know of any?

  7. Hayley on March 7, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Sunny and Christina, I’ve been thinking through other book recommendations for Ancient Egypt, and I thought of two more good historical fiction books. Shadow Hawk by Andre Norton takes place in Egypt during the time it was occupied by the Hyksos. It was formerly published by Bethlehem Books and is appropriate for 10 and up, or in your case Sunny, an interested 9 year old. It’s an adventure with no romance following the life of a young Egyptian soldier, and I remember thoroughly enjoying it. The Cat of Bubastes by G. A. Henty is another great story taking place in Ancient Egypt that would appropriate for all ages, and I’m sure your boys would enjoy it Christina. Jim Weiss has done a great job recording that, so it’s also available in audiobook format.

  8. Jessica B. on March 7, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    I’ve read Mara and thoroughly enjoyed it but would not allow a 9 year old to read it. I would probably say it is better suited for 12 and up. I have a 7 year old boy with an exceptionally high reading ability so I understand your caution.

  9. Monday . . .. mmmmmm? | Cats in Boxes on May 13, 2013 at 9:16 am

    […] reviewing Mara, Daughter of the Nile for Redeemed Reader, I decided to read another of McGraw’s books that I had often seen but never read. The Moorchild, […]

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