Title: Mara: Daughter of the Nile
Author: Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Major Themes: Ancient Egypt, Romance, Adventure
Synopsis: Mara, a slave, plays the dangerous job of double spy for the arch enemies of Ancient Egypt.
Mara: Daughter of the Nile is a powerful story set in Ancient Egypt. I was first introduced to it as a school reader, but as soon as I started the story, I knew I had a classic in my hands. Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s poetic writing style and her masterful use of language make this book the popular best-seller it is today.
Mara is a seventeen-year-old slave, whose only comfort in life are the dreams she has for freedom in the future, and the parchment scrolls she is occasionally able to steal from her master’s library. Her life suddenly seems to take a turn for the better when, one day, a rich stranger buys her and turns her into an interpreter for a princess from Babylon destined to become the wife of the crown prince of Egypt. Along with her job of being interpreter, she is told she must act as a spy for the Queen Hatshepsut—and if she does not comply, she will be instantly reduced to the position of slave again.
On her way to meet the princess’ boat, she comes in contact with a young man named Sheftu—who, while pretending to be a poor scribe, is hiding more secrets than he lets on at first. Mara soon finds out through careful detective work that Sheftu is actually a powerful lord in the queen’s court, and secretly a leader in a movement to overthrow Hatshepsut and set up her brother—the crown prince Thutmose—in her place. Sheftu finds out she overheard the private conversation, and with threats soon turns her into a spy for Thutmose.
Mara is now in a very dangerous position. If she makes one mistake while doing her job as a double spy for the two arch enemies of Egypt, she will lose her life immediately. As time goes on, she realizes that she is beginning to fall in love with Sheftu, but can she keep balancing her duplicity and still be true to him? When those supporting Thutmose rebel against the queen, will she land on the safe side? Or will she be found out—and die because of it?
Mara: Daughter of the Nile is full of dangerous adventure and intrigue. I love how it brought the story of Thutmose and Hatshepsut to life, and provided a solid, page-turning thriller as well. The only thing I didn’t appreciate was the amount of romance in the story—I think that part could have been in there a bit less, perhaps. Overall, Mara introduced me to the troubled times of Ancient Egypt, and gave me a dramatic slice of history and culture that had been lifeless before I experienced it through this book.
WARNING: Like I mentioned above, the main negative for this story is the amount of romance it contained. I object to detailed accounts of kissing, and this did go over-the-top that way. You may want to check out the following pages before allowing your child to read it themselves: 44, 118–119, 140–141, 210, 232, 276. Mom recently read it aloud to my brothers (who did not allow her to stop reading!), and she also said that the amount of charms, gods, and other religious things from the Ancient Egyptian culture was very strong throughout the book. You may want to talk to your children about that after they have heard or read the book, or use them as a starting point to discuss your own views.
Listening Level—Ages 10 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 12 – 15, 15 and Above