As Daughter of Sand and Stone opens, readers are introduced to Zenobia, her mother and two older sisters and quickly thrown into the chaos surrounding the death of Zenobia’s father. Zenobia’s father was the chief – or Ras, as he’s referred to in the book – of one of the most powerful tribes of Palmyra and widely respected by all. When he was alive, he coddled Zenobia and put up with her refusals of many suitors. Now fatherless and at the mercy of her old sister, – wife to the new Ras – Zenobia knows she must take matters into her own hands or be forced to marry.
Zenobia is seventeen and confident that gods intended her for something more than just the role of a woman and a mother. Buoyed by her belief, she arranges her own marriage to the Governor of Palmyra–a Governor with very close ties to Rome and who already has one wife. The marriage is not roses and sunshine. Zenobia is naturally resented by the first wife and closely watched for any missteps. And while her much older husband does value Zenobia’s counsel, he does not treat her with the same level of affection he affords the first wife. Despite her loneliness and troubles, Zenobia continues to dream of glory and power. when her husband’s latest military venture is infiltrated by rebels and ends in a disaster, Zenobia is not shaken. Instead, she is even more steadfast in her ambitions and her dreams of becoming the ‘Empress of the East’.
Daughter of Sand and Stone by Libbie Hawker takes place around 260 CE–about 300 years before the emergence of Islam. From what little information I found about the real Zenobia, she was queen of the Roman colony of Palmyra (in what is present day Syria) and conquered several eastern Roman provinces before her death in 272 CE.
I was excited to see Zenobia’s story fleshed out and brought to life in historical fiction. Unfortunately, I found Hawker’s book lacking on many levels; I forced myself to keep reading hoping for a spark of interest that never came. The story felt incredibly rushed and just as I was becoming somewhat interested in some aspect of Zenobia’s life, it quickly jumped ahead in time. Even seemingly momentous events – like Zenobia arranging her own marriage, or her time in Alexandria – were treated like blips on the radar and not adequately fleshed out. Speaking of Zenobia’s marriage…I found the entire prospect of a seventeen-year-old girl deciding to marry the Governor of her city because she found a purple ribbon in her father’s belongings (apparently only Roman nobility were allowed to wear purple) and then bringing the preposterous plan to fruition within days wholly unbelievable. I apologize for my disbelief if this level of detail was actually historically accurate, but it felt more like the author expanding on historical facts and doing a poor job of connecting fact A to fact B. I was also overwhelmed by the detailed descriptions that would normally make the book for me but in this case felt overdone and unnecessary. I felt like all these words were being thrown at me and instead of making me envision the setting they made me skip pages.
I did, however, appreciate Daughter of Sand and Stone for introducing me to Zenobia and hope to see other books on her life in the future. It’s always refreshing to read about powerful women that were ahead of their time!
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Lake Union Publishing. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.