As a historical figure, Zenobia's tale is found in a variety of accounts. Unfortunately, as is often the case, her story was subjected to sensationalism and socio-political propaganda. This process has imbued her with certain unrealistic qualities, and fails to provide insights into the aspects which humanize her. Daughter of Sand and Stone is a vibrant and gripping interpretation that breathes life into a once otherwise depth-less and contrived character.
Born in the city of Palmyra, the center of Roman trade from the east, Zenobia is the ambitious daughter of a tribal chieftain. While this fact affords her a measure of status, it cannot remain so, as she is seventeen and unwed. Is her worth to be determined by whatever man she is tied to? She would like to believe that the gods think otherwise, and that her destiny lies beyond a “woman's place.”
Early in her story, she has a struggle with her camel which she affectionately names “Feather.” As she attempts to force her mount to obey, and fails, she then persuades him through bribery. Zenobia's continued adventures seem to be somewhat underscored by this lesson. This connection is hinted at toward the end when she must leave Feather behind: "She senses that to part with him is to part with everything that she once was." When one can understand the desires of another, that knowledge can be used to master them. Usually.
What I liked about this book
If my daily responsibilities were fewer than they are, I could certainly have read this book in one or two sessions. I admit to staying up far too late on every night I had occasion to read it.
Imagery and Environment
Hawker creates a saturated world. The first chapter goes into fine details, some of which might otherwise be taken for granted in daily living. This includes the experience of visiting a climate one is not accustomed to, and the kind of scents (like death) which forecast an event to come.
Depth of Characters
Zenobia's human motivations, as typically unmentioned in historical accounts, becomes the story. Though backdropped by the events of the Palmyrene rebellion, these epic characters are still just people. Nearly every character had a real life depth to them. A remote and faceless antagonist becomes relatable. Rigidly stoic figures collapse in privacy. Even unnamed children conveyed individual emotions and motivations through nothing but their actions and behaviors.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical references.
What I disliked about this book
The first chapter was immersive in a number of ways, but it also felt like a bit too much backstory and context was being given in that space. Being presented as an aside during the opening scene, it was somewhat disruptive to go for several paragraphs before returning to present events. I cannot say how to remedy this as stretching the information out would delay the start of events.
About Libbie Hawker (from author's website)
I'm the author of nine novels (and counting, at a rapid pace.) My primary writing genre is historical fiction, but I love to read across all genres, and I have plans to try writing in other areas over the coming months and years. But I will never be able to give up historical fiction entirely. I'm a bona fide history nerd, and those fascinating true tales from humanity's past keep sucking me back in.
I was born in Rexburg, a small town in Idaho, and currently live on San Juan Island, though I've also lived in Bellingham, Seattle, Tacoma, and in Salt Lake City, Utah. I love getting out into nature -- I'd rather hike, camp, or sail the nearby San Juan Islands than do just about anything else. I try to bring my appreciation for nature into my writing by including the rich sensory details of setting, which make you feel like you're "really there."
My influences vary widely, and aren't limited to other novelists. I'm drawn to poignant story and creative, rich use of language and character wherever I find it. Some of my biggest inspirations include Hilary Mantel, Vladimir Nabokov, the poetry of Michael Ondaatje, the lyrics, rhythm, and melodies of Neko Case, and the work of mixed-media storyteller Chris Onstad.
I used to pursue major publishers, and worked with two literary agents on two separate occasions. However, in 2011 I realized what a great opportunity self-publishing presents to authors, and I jumped in with both feet and haven't looked back. "Going indie" enabled me to quit my day job and write full-time... something I'm certain I wouldn't have been able to achieve if I hadn't self-published.
Now I'm an advocate for self-publishing and enjoy sharing my experience with other authors, helping them find success as an "indie." I truly believe that the advent of ebooks and the rise of affordable self-publishing is the best thing that's ever happened to both writers and readers. There has never been a time in history when so many authors have been able to make a living from the written word. Nor have readers ever before had such easy access to the variety and artistic experimentation writers can offer when they're constrained by nothing but their own imaginations. It's a great time to be reading and writing!
I love books! For most of my life I have been reading them, and giving my insights to friends and family. This blog is for sharing that passion with the many others that love books too.