Review: Daughter of Sand and Stone by Libbie Hawker

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Zenobia, the proud daughter of a Syrian sheikh, refuses to marry against her will. She won’t submit to a lifetime of subservience. When her father dies, she sets out on her own, pursuing the power she believes to be her birthright, dreaming of the Roman Empire’s downfall and her ascendance to the throne.

Defying her family, Zenobia arranges her own marriage to the most influential man in the city of Palmyra. But their union is anything but peaceful—his other wife begrudges the marriage and the birth of Zenobia’s son, and Zenobia finds herself ever more drawn to her guardsman, Zabdas. As war breaks out, she’s faced with terrible choices.

From the decadent halls of Rome to the golden sands of Egypt, Zenobia fights for power, for love, and for her son. But will her hubris draw the wrath of the gods? Will she learn a “woman’s place,” or can she finally stake her claim as Empress of the East?

The answer to both questions turns out to be no. This book was odd in that I guess I expected it to focus more on Zenobia’s actual rebellion from Rome than it did. Most of the book is centered around WHY Zenobia chose to rise to power and how and then just sort of glances over her actual rebellion. What’s left is a book more about a woman with a whole lot of ambition than about a “warrior queen”. That’s not to say the book is bad, just not where I anticipated it would head. The truth is Zenobia is so shrouded in myth at this point just about any writer could interject a story about her into the historical canon and it wouldn’t be much more far fetched than stories that already circulate about her. She’s captured attention along the same lines as Cleopatra and Boudicca as a woman who defied Rome and got pretty far doing so (and actually lived as opposed to the other two), but just like them sometimes the historical record is mighty sketchy about accurate biographies.

So take this book as what it is, more a romance than action, and more a study of a woman who while likable is also possibly too proud and ambitious for her own good. She’s not heartless and you understand why she commands such respect, but she’s also willing to gamble to accomplish what she feels is her destiny. And just like many rulers her gamble ultimately fails as she comes up against what is probably one of the few competent Roman emperors from this era.

4 out of 5

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