This review is part of The Cinderella Week.
Historical fiction can be a tough genre since as many insipid books about. But there are some gems; I found my favorites in middle school and high school when we used the Beautiful Feet history guides. Mara: Daughter of the Nile is one such gem. I put it on my re-read list, and when I saw all the Cinderella adaptations, I thought this book fit the rags-to-riches, alone-in-the-world-to-beloved-of-a-prince plot (loosely, for it is much more than that).
A chilling, austere agent of Pharaoh Hatshepsut buys a slave girl named Mara to spy out a plot by friends of Prince Thutmose to overthrow the usurping Hatshepsut. Almost immediately after, Mara is forced by Sheftu, a mighty lord in disguise as a scribe, to work as a spy for him on behalf of Thutmose. Torn between fear for her life, desire for wealth, and love for Sheftu, Mara maneuvers through the ancient royal Egyptian court in her role as double-agent. Her life, Sheftu’s life, and the fate of the Egyptian monarchy hang in the balance.
There are many Cinderella parallels in Mara’s story. First is Mara’s poverty in contrast to Sheftu’s wealth. Also, the novels hints that Mara was probably born to a better life which parallels Cinderella’s better life before her step-family reduced her position in the family from sister/daughter to servant. Then Mara’s position is suddenly, almost magically changed, but tentatively and temporarily similar to Cinderella and her few hours of glory at the ball. Then everything spirals out of control, and Mara’s new life, and new love, vanish. She is caught as Cinderella is trapped by her stepmother. Then just as startlingly and suddenly as Cinderella is reunited with her prince via her marvelous glass slippers, so Mara is startlingly and suddenly saved and acknowledged by Sheftu when he realizes her faithfulness to him and love for him as evidenced by her refusal to betray him under bribery and torture.
I love Cinderella stories, but this books takes a simple plot and weaves it into a fantastic tale. We long to know more of Egypt while reading of the exotic details and the dramatic court intrigue. The strain of suspense is woven tightly as Mara becomes dangerously enmeshed in that intrigue. And the romantic tension rises as Mara falls in love with one of her masters while she wonders if the enigmatic, suave, almost unnaturally self-controlled Sheftu responds at all. History, suspense, and romance, what a perfect combination!