(This review also appears on Paper Lantern Writers and Discovery)
After teaching Mesopotamian history to sixth graders for many years, I wanted to love this book. It’s not a time period that is overrun with historical fiction, and I love stories about real women. Starlight in the Dawn is very well researched and written. The setting details put you right into the daily life in a Sumerian temple. The characters of Hedu, the priestess, and Beshi, the warrior, are engaging. I liked both of them very much and rooted for them. They were my favorite characters! Lugalanne, the king of Uruk, and Obares, the mayor of Ur, are excellent antagonists. When Atrahasis, the elder, advises Hedu that she must get her head out of the clouds and involve herself in politics to better serve her people, I cheered.
I know the difficulties a writer faces when trying to write a compelling story about a real historical figure, especially if it’s ancient history (literally) and there’s very little written record to go on. Sridhar chose to stay close to the record. In doing so, he lost an opportunity to make this a story of a truly great woman. The story line is solid, I just wish the dramatic tension had been heightened. Hedu’s kidnapping should have affected the people more, should have affected her more. She had the potential for making quite a powerful personal transformation, but the forces pulling at her just weren’t strong enough. As written, Hedu’s destiny wasn’t influenced by her own actions as much as by those of her rescuers.
Having said that, I very much enjoyed the Sumerian mythology included in the novel as I really didn’t know very much about their goddesses. I loved Ninlil, the potter’s niece, and the idea of messages carved into clay pottery. The character that was revealed at the end to be a spy surprised me. I would’ve liked to see more of her so I wondered about her earlier. Overall, I did like the book very much and would recommend it to anyone looking for a tale of a strong woman in a historical setting new to them.
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