I have just read a wonderful book. A beautiful book. A compelling mystery, with romance, magic, and a serene reverence that is rare in novels, particularly adventure novels, as this one is. My only disappointment is in the cover. Actually, I like the cover. It's just that a) They should have chosen a different colour for the title, as it blends into the woman's face too much and b) this woman does not look like a person of colour. Which the character is. However! On to the review.
Star's Reflection is Gail Nyoka's second novel. Her first, Mella and the Nanga, was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award (Children) in 2005.
Vida and Sammi are friends in modern day Toronto, Canada. Their maths teacher is rotten to them, as their art teacher was a couple of years before. Nothing new there, and nothing fun, except that they can bemoan together their persecution by him. But when he wrestles violently with a strange woman over a package outside of their school, she throws it to them and tells them to run. They catch it and flee, and with that decision the two friends find themselves inexorably drawn into a dangerous and beguiling drama that stretches over millenia, from the present day back to the time of Queen Nefertari of Egypt.
The package, which they of course open as soon as they get home (wouldn’t you?) is of an ancient mirror, with an ivory handle shaped like a woman whose upstretched arms hold a mirror. The woman’s ears are those of a cow. She is, they learn in time, the goddess Het Heru, or Hathor.
The rest of the book follows two linked lines: the two girls as they cope with the real time danger, and the gradually unfolding story of a young priestess of Het Heru, revealed to them through the mirror, as she lives and learns and loves in a temple in ancient Egypt. In her time, too, there is danger, and the beauty of her desert world and the wonder of dedication to a deity who is celebrated in music, ritual, study, and prayer. How Vida and Sammi react to what they witness in the mirror, and the two groups who vie for its possession, and how the young priestess Little Star confronts the challenges in her own life, form the greater part of the story. But there, too, is struggle over a religion thought dead for thousands of years.
Nyoka’s spare, elegant prose and clear-eyed understanding of both worlds come together in a young adult novel that is as easily attractive to this aging lady. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in girls and their lives, ancient Egypt and its religion, romance, friendship, jealousy, and understanding. Very nicely done.