Daughter of the Sky by Michelle Diener

Publisher’s Blurb:

The Victorian Empire has declared war on the Zulus if they don’t accede to their outrageous demands. The clock is ticking down to the appointed hour. With no idea why the British are marching three massive columns of men and guns towards them, one Zulu general is prepared to take an impossible risk. But the life he’s gambling with isn’t his own . . .

The sole survivor of a shipwreck off the Zululand coast, 15 year-old Elizabeth Jones is taken in by the Zulus, the people of the sky. Six years later, her white skin becomes useful to the Zulu army as they try to work out why the Victorian Empire has pointed their war-machine at the Zulu nation. Elizabeth is suddenly Zululand’s most important spy.

While infiltrating the British camp, Elizabeth’s disguise as a young soldier is uncovered almost immediately by Captain Jack Burdell. However, he believes the tale she spins of searching for a missing brother and shields her from discovery, allowing her to bunk in his tent and giving her a job as his batman. Burdell is war-weary and disillusioned – no longer willing to follow regulations at all costs.

But as Elizabeth and Jack explore their growing attraction to each other, the two armies move towards their inevitable clash. Elizabeth is torn between the guilt of betrayal and her fierce loyalty to her Zulu family, and when Zulu and British meet on the battlefield, both she and Jack find their hearts and their lives caught in the crossfire.

RHL Classifications:

Time Frame:  Victorian Era

Heat Level:  2

Review Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Susan:

Inspired by the Anglo-Zulu War during the Victorian Era when the British Monarchy endeavored to colonize South Africa, Michelle Diener’s historical romance Daughter of the Sky cauterizes aspects of fiction with non-fiction, sharing a quality which has made such novels as Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper into epics.  Diener’s tale has a classic literature slant and pulsates with her perception of the two parties that faced each other on the battlefield.

Although Daughter of the Sky is in the ilk of such timeless tomes, the story oftentimes disorients readers as Diener writes for two camps, the British Army who aim to subjugate the Zulu tribe known as the people of the sky, and the Zulu’s who fight to maintain their freedom.  Diener also brings in a neighboring tribe the Xhosa’s into the fray, and though she understands what part they served in the war, it isn’t conveyed comprehensibly to the reader.  Characters pop in and out and the plot loses its focus as Diener incorporates letters from home delivered to the British soldiers and diary entries that make the soldiers question their humanity.  A web of conflicted souls, ambitious strategists, and advocates of peace are entombed in Diener’s tale.

Amidst the war is a romance that blossoms between Captain Jack Burdell of the British Army and Elizabeth Jones, a twenty-one year old maiden who had been shipwrecked six years prior and saved by the Zulu’s tribesman Lindani.  She is adopted by Lindani who names her Inyoni, meaning bird or daughter of the sky.  She develops an unfaltering devotion to the Zulu’s abandoning her journey to return to her homeland of England where she was sent to live with her domineering grandmother after her parents were killed in China during a British raid to silence the Chinese opposition.  She blamed the British Army for killing her parents and feels no pride, loyalty or affection for her homeland or its people.

Her perspective changes when King Cetshwayo asks her to disguise herself as a British boy soldier and spy on the enemy.  She accepts the assignment without hesitation.  Only Burdell recognizes she is a female and agrees to keep her secret.  Her hatred of the British dissipates as she discovers the soldier’s human side though the men’s love for their country makes them engage in the warfare.  Caught between two worlds, Elizabeth’s time is running out and soon she’ll have to choose a side.

Diener elucidates the scars and wounds that cripple both sides, showing compassion for the Zulu’s and the British forces who endure a form of imprisonment too.  Balancing the cruelties of war with the glorious highs of love, Daughter of the Sky sheds light on a part of history that much of the modern populace may have never known.  Diener puts faces to the Victorian Age war as two worlds collide but neither rises to champion.

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