Search This Blog

Monday, December 14, 2015

Daughter of Sand and Stone by Libbie Hawker

As promised in yesterday's review of The Butterfly Mosque, I am copying my review of Libbie Hawker's novel about Queen Zenobia of Palmyra in Syria.   She  remains an icon and an inspiration to the Syrian people in stories under the name Bat Zabbai or daughter of Zabbai  which Libbie Hawker's Zenobia uses as a battle name.  I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in return for this honest review. My review from Book Babe is below.

                                           

I've been looking forward to this book ever since I read that Libbie Hawker was writing it.  This year I reviewed her Pocahontas novel on Book Babe here.  I found it interesting and absorbing.   Daughter of  Sand and Stone is a book dealing with Queen Zenobia of Palmyra.   She was a warrior queen and a rebel against the Romans like  another favorite of mine, Queen Boudica of the Iceni.  I lick my chops and salivate when I learn about historical fiction dealing with Zenobia.

The first time I read a Zenobia novel I was disappointed.  It was The Rise of Zenobia by J. D. Smith.  I reviewed Smith's version on Book Babe here.  My biggest problem with it was that Zenobia wasn't the protagonist.  It was her general, Zabdas.   I felt distanced from Zenobia.  In Daughter of Sand and Stone, Zabdas plays an important role, but the main perspective is very definitely Zenobia's.

I feel that it's also important to mention the recent destruction of Palmyra by ISIS in the context of any current review of a book about Zenobia. Here is an article about it from the U.K. Guardian.  Zenobia loved her city and it means a great deal to modern day Syrians who are opposed to ISIS. Ancient Palmyra and Zenobia are essential parts of  our world heritage, but they particularly belong to the history of Syria.  It seems to me that anyone who participates in preserving the memory of ancient Palmyra and Zenobia is engaging in an act of defiance against those who seek to destroy them.  That's what Daughter of Sand and Stone means to me.  It's an act of defiance.

Like Libbie Hawker's Pocahontas, her Zenobia is ambitious.   In the case of Pocahontas, it's definitely a flaw due to lack of maturity.  She simply craves attention and her ambitions are comparatively small scale.  On the other hand, Hawker's Zenobia wants an empire and to reign as Queen in Egypt like her maternal ancestor, Cleopatra.  She is continually told  by members of her family and later by a Roman Emperor that she is  going beyond the bounds of women's sphere.  I think this is a strength.   We need women like Zenobia.  She had courage, vision and intelligence.  She deserved to succeed.

Hawker extrapolates from Roman primary sources for the ending of her novel. In Hawker's very detailed Author's Note she says that a number of writers on Zenobia don't believe the official Roman version and I confess that I don't either.  Within the context of the book, it was anti-climactic.  So in addition to my feelings that it was out of character and not a fit ending for Zenobia, it wasn't a good ending from a dramatic perspective.

Yet up until that ending, I was cheering on Zenobia and feeling so delighted that we got a modern novel about the Warrior Queen of Palmyra in which she lives and breathes.  It may not be the ideal Zenobia novel, but it perpetuates her legacy at a time when I think it's particularly important to do so.

                                   
 

No comments:

Post a Comment