Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Book Review // Mara: Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw


I finished Hamlet last week and I’m working on marshaling my thoughts somewhat for a post, but meanwhile (starting this week off a bit under the weather) I was blessed with some unusually long extra hours of reading time and chose to delve into Mara. Twice through in two days, back to back and cover to cover. (Which, lest the point escape you ;), is a high honor reserved for only the most incredibly loved of favorite stories.)


I first heard about this book when I was about twelve so, as you can see, it took me a ridiculous amount of time to actually get to it! But most thankfully I now have and, in short, I’m utterly and completely head-over-heels. Seriously, it fits right in with some of my favorite stories of all time, the ones I’ve loved since I was about 10 to 13: i.e. Caroline Dale Snedeker’s books set in Greece and Rome (and Nantucket), Margaret Leighton’s Journey for a Princess, Beverly Butler’s Song of the Voyageur, Jean Bothwell’s books in India -- those ones that, looking back, have shaped me most, given me parameters of comfort in my own writing, helped me see. And, perhaps because I’ve always mentally associated it with those others (though I hadn’t yet read it), Mara now slides similarly right into their lofty ranks. I honestly hadn’t thought I’d really find another story to ever join them in quite the same way, but I was wrong.

It’s a wonderful feeling.


Here’s for a short summary from the dustjacket: “On an escapade in the marketplace in Menfe, Mara, the mistreated slave of a wealthy jewel trader, attracts the notice of a mysterious white-hooded man who buys her to use as a spy in the service of Queen Hatshepsut, half-sister of Thutmose. On the Nile river boat, The Silver Beetle, Mara becomes acquainted with Sheftu, a youth who describes himself as 'a scribe’s apprentice' but is in reality Lord Sheftu, leader of the movement to depose the profligate queen and to put Thutmose on the throne of Egypt. Sheftu also decides to employ Mara as a go-between at court for himself and Thutmose.”

And I’m sorry, they go on to give some tremendous (and I mean tremendous) spoilers, so that’s really all I can share of that, but suffice to say the whole story is rich and gripping and vibrant, moving purposely forward with layers upon layers of sparkling brilliance and complexity. And, fresh and vivid -- with a flavor of swirling intrigue in the very manner of the telling -- it’s all most deftly and superbly rendered, with an easy tossing back and forth of narrative like a juggler’s golden balls. 


There isn’t a single superfluous character and -- while it’s rich with detail -- it’s all utterly and perfectly balanced. Listen to this description: 

He grinned down at Mara, and her retort died on her lips. As he turned to murmur something to Nekonkh, she struggled to regain her composure. What was it about his smile? Its warmth? Its sudden intimacy? It rushed to the head like strong wine.

“She was aware of nothing but him, as he stood there outlined against the noisy, torchlit room. All day she had nerved herself for this meeting, fearing to find him again the curt and glittering stranger he had been in the lotus garden. Now, all in a moment, her fears had vanished. Here was no gold-hung lord, but her companion of the Beetle—warm, teasing, dangerous. Her spirits rose like a sail.


There isn’t a single moment where Mara herself changes all at once. It’s imperceptible. You can feel it happening. As for Sheftu. . . he now fits right in with some of my favorite heroes: the strong and silent men with a mission -- serious, passionate and hard to read, yet oft-times showing a gentleness, flashing forth too with a startling, winged smile -- Mr. Thornton (Gaskell’s N&S), Baudouin (Leighton’s Journey for a Princess), Bjorn (Sutcliff’s The Shield Ring) Barney Snaith (Montgomery’s Blue Castle), and Cedric in my own WIP.

As for the romance. . . Obviously, the political overcurrent of intrigue intensifies the romance between them (creating even further depth in all the running under and cross currents of their purposes and desires), but -- what I’m also getting at -- is that you can see the romance by their choices and actions -- by what they are and are not doing, what they are or are not saying to others -- and then it makes the actual moments between them so razor sharp and intense! It’s breathtaking.


Of course, I love immersing myself in the ancient world -- here particularly Egypt, Egyptian history, and archaeology -- but I think I’d love Mara anyway. The characters (major and minor), the fluidity of the narrative and the evocative language, the beautifully crafted conflict, the intensity, the romance. . . it’s all magnificent.

So yes, it most definitely has my thorough and ongoing stamp of full love and approval, has joined my top favorites, and I’m quite certain will be read again and again and again!!! :)

Tell me! Have you read Mara and what did you think?



23 comments:

  1. I'm so glad that I read your wonderful review! I've had Mara sitting on the shelf for years and have wiffle-waffled about reading it. Now it's definitely on the TBR!

    BTW, I absolutely love Snedecker too. Her The Forgotten Daughter gives one of the most poignant characterizations of slavery that I've ever read, not to mention forgiveness.

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    1. cleopatra,
      Oooh, you have it on the shelf?? I'm so glad I was able to bump it to your TBR list! :)

      And I'm sooo excited to find another Snedeker lover!! Yes and YES. Her books have had such an incredibly huge role in my life. It's absolutely amazing.

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  2. I love this book. Love it. Actually, I always forget how much I love it and then when I reread it I spend a few days at least gushing about how wonderful it is. Have you read her other Egyptian book, The Golden Goblet? If not, I'd definitely recommend it!

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    1. Reyna Nicole,
      (First off, you should have seen the smile on my face when your comment popped up. It's so good to hear from you! ;))

      And I'm positively delighted you love it so much, too. Hee. I know exactly what you mean. And about The Golden Goblet: yes, I have and love it! It's been awhile, but I definitely count it as a favorite... so vivid and gripping!

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  3. Wonderful review for it has left me very interested! I have a hard time becoming interested in books by reviews. But you managed it. :) Well done, Heidi!

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    1. Cordy,
      Thank you! And oh dear... really? I'm so glad I managed it then! ;)

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    2. Heidi!
      I just finished reading Mara late last night! I couldn't put it down! I owe you a HUGE debt, Heidi! Haha. I have been in the worst reading slump/rut then I read your review. (Thankfully my library had a copy or Mara.) My goodness, it's a fabulous book! It's so captivating!! Now, having read it, I understand everything that you wrote here and it's all true! :D
      Thanks again for this review, Heidi! I will have to look into the other books you mentioned here in your post but for now, I just wanted to thank you for this review. :D

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    3. Cordy,
      Ooh, you did?!? YAY! How splendid and I'm so glad your library had a copy! :) I'm laughing. It had that same effect on me, too. At the beginning I was like, "Oh well, we'll see how this goes." *coughs* And then it just grabbed hold and that was promptly the end of that. ;D

      I'm so glad you agree with everything and thank you so much for telling me!! :)

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  4. I love Mara Daughter of the Nile. Such a good book!

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  5. Aahh, I LOVE "Mara, Daughter of the Nile"! That's so awesome you read it twice in two days, because I really wanted to do that when I read it the first time. XD I keep meaning to reread it and haven't managed to... but soon! I just... gaaahh, I love it so much. ^_^ *huggles book* Mara's and Sheftu's romance, Mara's changing self, the political intrigue, and most of all, Sheftu himself and all his amazingness... YES. He's definitely one of my favorite characters. :D Great review!

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    1. Deborah O'Carroll,
      Hee. Reading it twice over was pretty entirely epic, wonderful and amazing. :D And eeeesh. YES TO EVERYTHING YOU MENTIONED. I'm so happy and delighted to hear you love it so much, too!!! ;D And thank you!

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  6. I've loved Mara, Daughter of the Nile since I first read it years ago. It is so captivating, intense, and romantic, no? I am so glad you like it as well!

    (And that "like a juggler's golden balls" reference was very appropriate indeed;)

    Have you ever read Enemy Brothers by Constance Savery?

    Love your blog, Heidi!(And your name- it's very sweet.)

    ~Rilla Blythe

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    1. Rilla,
      Yes, indeed.

      And yay! You got the reference! ;)

      No, I haven't, but I've heard great things about it and my sister got it for Christmas, so I'm looking forward to delving into it ASAP. Have you read it/were you recommending it?

      And awwww, thank you so much for your kind words and for commenting! :)

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  7. Ohhh, this sounds beautiful! *Immediately adds to TBR list*
    And that snippet!!! It's gorgeous.
    Sheftu sounds like a wonderful hero-and he's like Cedric!! Oh, what a tantalizing piece of information. I feel like I keep getting hints and snatches of what ODS will be...I get excited about it every time I hear something new!

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    1. Natalie,
      Oh, good! YES, YOU MUST READ IT!!!! ;D

      Isn't it beautiful?? :)

      *grinning all over* Hee. This part of your comment made me soooo happy! ;D Tingles and everything....

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    2. Heidi,
      Well, as it happens, I'm reading it RIGHT now. And enjoying it immensely! :D

      Heehee!! I know what you mean! I'm glad it made you happy. :)

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  8. I've never read this, but wonderful job reviewing it! I'm interested!

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    1. Rosie,
      Oh good, I'm so happy you're interested! :) And thank you!

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  9. I'm trying to think what book I've read by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. Something westerny. Moccasin Trail, I think? Anyway, the author is familiar and I recall liking at least one of her books, so I'll keep an eye out for this one! Don't you love finding a new favorite? Such a quietly sizzling feeling.

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    1. Hamlette,
      I haven't read it, but she did write Moccasin Trail so that sounds like it's probably right. :) And yes! Especially when you haven't run across a new one for awhile. In this case, too it was kind of like explosive fireworks. :D

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  10. :D Ah, MARA was a favourite book when I was about 13... I've been meaning to re-read it soon, from a writer's perspective, because it was brilliant craftsmanship.

    *waves* Hi again!

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    1. Suzannah,
      I was so happy to get your comment! :) And yes indeed, likewise on her brilliant craftsmanship and reading again with an eye to her technique.

      *waving vigorously in return* Thank you again, I'm so happy you commented! ;)

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Oh, you're thinking of leaving a comment! How entirely lovely -- thank you and please do!! :) I just ask that all comments be God-honoring and edifying. (And btw, I LOVE comments on old posts! ;))

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