Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Mara, Daughter of the Nile

Go To

Mara, Daughter of the Nile (1953) is a YA novel by Eloise McGraw that is equal parts espionage thriller and romance novel, set in Ancient Egypt.

The plot follows the slave girl Mara as she is sold by her brutal master, only to find herself drawn into two rival plots that involve the throne of Egypt. While at first acting only for herself, Mara finds herself falling for one of her two masters and believing in his cause. But maintaining her tenuous double life grows more and more difficult, and her failure to do so has consequences that change the course of Egypt's history.

This book provides examples of:

  • Ancient Egypt: The setting of the story.
  • Arranged Marriage: Thutmose and Inanni. Neither are very happy with the idea; Thutmose resents Innani and views her as uncultured (at least initially), while Inanni misses her homeland enormously and has no desire whatsoever to live in Egypt, especially once she learns what Thutmose really thinks of her. Fortunately, Thutmose begins to treat Inanni more kindly, and their mutually-unwanted engagement is ultimately called off so Inanni can go home to her family.
  • The Artful Dodger: Mara has the attitude and the skills, but she's not satisfied with life on the streets.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Zasha, and later Hatshepsut's lackeys, beat Mara with a whip as punishment.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Thutmose gets an understated one at the end, when he returns to the throne room wearing the royal cobra. Everyone kneels instantly. He then confers an awesome moment of countship on Sheftu.
  • Barefoot Captives: Mara doesn't have sandals until she's pretending to be a free woman. As a slave in Zasha's home, she was barefoot.
  • Battle Butler: Sheftu's got one. Officially he doesn't know about the plot. But they both know he does.
  • Beautiful Slave Girl: Mara, who's even described as "a lily plucked from the gutter." However, unlike the typical Beautiful Slave Girl, she doesn't wait to be rescued, but finagles her own path through sheer cleverness and audacity. And she's mostly successful at it.
  • Becoming the Mask: Mara, not only to her role as an agent for the king, but also as Inanni's companion.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Mara and Sheftu have the "Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy" style that plays itself out in biting skirmishes of words and wit.
  • Bilingual Backfire: When Thutmose curtly rejects Inanni at their first meeting, Mara can't bear to let her know the truth, so translates it as "His highness welcomes you to Egypt." Only to be met with Thutmose's shocked stare and remember too late that he speaks Babylonian.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Mara speaks both Egyptian and Babylonian fluently. She is the translator for Princess Inanni, who only speaks Babylonian, to Thutmose, who understands both Babylonian and Egyptian, but refuses to speak Babylonian. To make matters even more complicated, Mara and the king are exchanging coded messages for use in La Résistance, while Mara must tell Inanni some sort of appropriate polite comment or question.
  • Born into Slavery: Maybe, maybe not. Mara has been a slave for virtually her entire life, but she has vague memories of living in a luxurious home as a very young child. It's never made clear whether she was a slave there, too, or a free child.
  • Boxed Crook: Sheftu thinks Mara is this, as he believes her to be a runaway slave. In reality, she was bought and employed by his archnemesis and he has no hold on her whatsoever. Well, except for The Power of Love.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Inanni wants to be the gentle girl to Thutmose's brooding boy, but Thutmose only sees her as his Unwanted Funny Foreigner Fiancée.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Count Senmut and Lord Naresh are portrayed as the Ancient Egyptian nobility version of this.
  • Corporal Punishment: Mara gets this a lot, first from Zasha in retaliation for acting out as a slave and later from Chazdar in an attempt to get information about the plot to overthrow Hatshepsut.
  • Creepy Blue Eyes: Mara is blue-eyed, which was extremely rare in Ancient Egypt (granted, her origins are ambigious, as she's a slave who doesn't know much about her own background). Although some characters think of her eyes as unique and pretty, many view them as strange, unnerving, or even demonic.
  • Cunning Linguist: Mara, whose fluency in Babylonian lands her in the position of interpreter for the princess.
  • Dating Batman: Mara finds herself falling for the heroic Sheftu, even though betraying him to the queen's agents would bring her rich rewards, including freedom and wealth.
  • Decadent Court: Hatshepsut's court is portrayed like this: being made up of Hatshepsut's hangers-on—most of whom are out for their own profit, those secretly loyal to Thutmose—most of whom are out for their own profit, and those too stupid to realize what's going on.
  • Double Agent: The entire plot of the book hinges on Mara being a Double Agent for multiple different people, double-crossing her masters and prioritizing her own freedom before eventually falling in love with Sheftu.
  • Drives Like Crazy The Libyan.
  • Everyone Can See It: Sheftu is very annoyed when he realizes that he and Mara are this—to the point that a drunken Upper-Class Twit who knows nothing about their double lives can comment on it
  • Every Man Has His Price: This is basically Sheftu's philosophy, and he's proven right time and again, only for him to discover Mara is being tortured because she refused to betray him for a bribe.
  • Evil Chancellor: Played with in that Count Senmut is definitely a villain, but seems loyal to his queen (although he's looking out for himself first and foremost).
  • Feed the Mole: Sheftu's test of Mara's loyalty. She passes, but she wasn't the only mole he fed.
  • Femme Fatale Spy: Mara has definite elements of this. Note, however, that her employer didn't intend for her to captivate the leader of La Résistance into revealing nearly all his secrets to her.
  • Funny Foreigner: In-story, this is how Inanni and the rest of the Syrians are viewed, but Inanni herself is a very sympathetic character and the parts of the book from her perspective show that she finds Egyptian customs every bit as strange as they find hers.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Sheftu's rebellion sees Hatshepsut as this.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Nekonkh, although his grumbling and belief that the past was better are shown to be justified within the book's plot.
  • Guile Hero: Both Mara and Sheftu.
  • The Heart: Inanni, Mara's only real friend and the one who gently guides her to an unselfish understanding of herself and her world.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Hatshepsut and Count Senmut.
  • Hollywood History: While the details of day to day life in Egypt are mostly correct, the book portrays Hatshepsut as Thutmose's half-sister, while she was really his stepmother, and casts her as a power-hungry villainess whose vanity threatens to bankrupt Egypt. Modern historians view her as an excellent ruler who actually had a good relationship with Thutmose. (To be entirely fair, though, the book was written in 1953, when information about Hatshepsut was either undiscovered or not readily available.)
  • Informed Flaw: We are repeatedly told that Sheftu is nothing special to look at. But since most of the book is from Mara's point of view and she thinks he's the hottest thing since desert bonfires, it doesn't have a lot of impact. Incidentally, Inanni finds him attractive as well—though she thinks a nice, luxuriant beard would work wonders.
    Thutmose: Well favored? In truth he is almost ugly, but no woman ever knows it.
  • The Ingenue: Inanni is a sweet and somewhat naive princess who was brought to Egypt to marry Thutmose as part of an Arranged Marriage orchestrated by Hatshepshut.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Mara and Nekonkh, who seems to see Mara as the daughter he never had.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Both Mara and Sheftu sport these.
  • La Résistance: The faction that Sheftu leads on behalf of the king is basically this.
  • Long Hair Is Feminine: Inanni's hip-length hair is just one of many cues of her gentle and nurturing personality.
  • Mundane Luxury: Basic makeup and non-ragged clothing are this for Mara when she first assumes her role as the princess's interpreter.
  • Mysterious Past: Mara has vague memories of being a free child in a wealthy household, and Sheftu wonders if she was a child of noble birth stolen and sold into slavery. The truth is never revealed.
  • Nice to the Waiter: One of the turning points for Mara in deciding which side to take is when Thutmose asks Inanni, the foreign fiancée he does not want, which vase she prefers and then makes a gift of it to her. It also has a big impact on Inanni, even after she finds out the truth of their relationship, and is part of the reason she helps Mara at the end.
  • The Nondescript: Sheftu employs this deliberately when acting as Sashai, or in another capacity for his rebellion.
  • Not Used to Freedom: Mara's been a slave for so long that she's excited to be given basic necessities while pretending to be a free woman.
  • Occult Blue Eyes: Mara has blue eyes, which are extremely rare in Ancient Egypt. Most characters, including her love interest, see them as exotically beautiful, but a few of the characters find them creepy or demonic.
  • Old Retainer: Irenamon to Sheftu. Also, Ashor and Miphtahyah, the proprietors of the Inn of the Falcon.
  • Playing Both Sides: Mara's original plan, before Becoming the Mask threw everything out the window.
  • Playing Cyrano: Subverted. Mara tries to do this for Inanni—translating her nervous stammerings as gracious, regal conversation, and translating the king's grumpy, uninterested remarks as romantic compliments...but she forgets that the king is also a Cunning Linguist and can speak the language.
  • Plucky Girl: Mara, without a doubt.
  • Regent for Life: How Hatshepsut assumed her power.
  • Rightful King Returns: Thutmose's assumption of the throne is portrayed this way.
  • Scullery Maid: Mara was this as a slave in Zasha's house.
  • Secret Relationship: Mara and Sheftu's Will They or Won't They? and Belligerent Sexual Tension have to be kept secret during their cover lives as a great lord and a lowly interpreter who barely have an excuse to interact. Of course, people notice anyway.
  • Servile Snarker: Mara.
  • She Is the King: Hatshepsut, as in Real Life. It's even noted that she wears masculine attire and a false beard in court.
  • Show Some Leg: Mara gets in and out of the palace by flirting with a young guard at a little-used gate.
  • The Spymaster: Sheftu for Thutmose, Nareth for Hatshepsut. Mara works for both of them.
  • Street Urchin: Mara frequently resorts to stealing food on the streets when her masters starve her, and she longs for "gold and freedom" above all things.
  • Sympathetic Slave Owner: Oddly enough for a book about a Beautiful Slave Girl, most of the main characters are this, including Mara and Sheftu themselves at the end. It's a case of Truth in Television; most, if not all, noblemen and women in Ancient Egypt would have owned slaves. (That being said, people like Zasha, who overwork and physically abuse their slaves, are still treated as abhorrent.)
  • Third-Act Misunderstanding: Mara's double life breaks down, leading to Sheftu nearly assassinating her to protect his identity.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Mara and Inanni for Thutmose.
  • Trust Password: Sheftu gives Nekonkh a Trust Password for Mara: "Tell her I have not forgotten what I said last night when I took her in my arms." Nekonkh is repulsed by Sheftu's cold-bloodedness, as he is to use the Trust Password as part of Mara's loyalty test.
  • Unwanted Fiancée: Inanni. Thutmose's initial angry revulsion fades as he comes to see Inanni as a person rather than another insult by his half-sister, but he still doesn't want to marry her. She'd much rather go home to Syria herself.
  • Villainous Harlequin: Sahure the juggler.
  • Warrior Prince: Thutmose.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Mara's blue eyes (extremely rare in Egypt) are considered this by Sheftu and a few others (although many characters view them as unnatural and disconcerting instead).
  • When He Smiles: Sheftu. Another male character mentions that Sheftu is actually so plain as to be almost ugly, but his smile (along with his super-suaveness) prevents any woman from realizing this.
  • The Wise Prince: Thutmose, if you substitute "melancholy" for "brooding."