Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran
From the inside flap:
The marriage of Marc Antony and Cleopatra in one of the greatest love stories of all time, a tale of unbridled passion with earth-shaking political consequences. Feared and hunted by the powers of Rome, the lovers choose to die by their own hands as the triumphant armies of Antony’s vengeful rival, Octavian, sweep into Egypt. Their orphaned children – ten-year-old twins Selene and Alexander – are taken in chains to Rome. Delivered to the household of Octavian’s sister, the siblings cling to each other and to the hope that they will return one day to their rightful place on the throne of Egypt. As they come of age, they are buffeted by the personal ambitions of Octavian’s family and court, by the ever-present threat of slave rebellion, and the longings and desires deep within their own hearts.
The fateful tale of Selene and Alexander is brought brilliantly to like in Cleopatra’s Daughter. Recounted in Selene’s youthful and engaging voice, it introduces a compelling cast of historical characters: Octavia, the emperor Octavian’s kind and compassionate sister, abandoned by Marc Antony for Cleopatra; Livia, Octavian’s bitter and jealous wife; Marcellus, Octavian’s handsome, flirtatious nephew and heir apparent; Tiberius, Livia’s sardonic son and Marcellus’s great rival for power; and Juba, Octavian’s watchful aide, whose honored position at court has far-reaching effects on the lives of young Egyptian royals.
Selene’s narrative is animated by the concerns of a young girl in any time and place – the possibility of finding love, the pull of friendship and family, and the pursuit of her unique interests and talents. While coping with the loss of both her family and her ancestral kingdom, Selene must also find a path around the dangers of a foreign land. Her accounts of life in Rime are filled with historical details that vividly capture both the glories and horrors of the times. She dines with the empire’s most illustrious poets and politicians, witnesses the creation of the Pantheon, and navigates the colorful, crowded marketplaces of the city where Roman-style justice is meted out with merciless authority. In these chaotic streets and whispering palaces, Selene confronts the same forces that destroyed her mother and struggles to meet a different fate.
Cleopatra’s Daughter basically starts with the death of Antony and Cleopatra where a lot of the time the story is coming to an end. But this time you get to see what happens to their children when they are gone. Selene tells the story of herself, her twin brother Alexander, and their little brother Ptolemy when they are taken to Rome after their parents deaths. Selene is only 10 when they set out for Rome and the whole story is told through her eyes. The children act and sound like children, incredibly intelligent and savvy children true but children, and even though the story is told by, and about, a child the tone of the book is not juvenile and avoids becoming overly simplistic. Moran describes the every day life of the people. She shows you the courts, politics, history, markets, baths, houses, and so much more. Some of it, like the accounts of slavery and of abandoning of unwanted children, isn’t pretty but it is all interesting and brings the world of Ancient Rome to life. All the characters are brought to vivid life as well. They are not history text book characters but real people with their jealousies, spite, loves, insecurities, and complex motivations. No one is one dimensional so even Octavian, who is obviously ruthless and cares more about power than he does about people, has his good moments. I like the mystery element Moran adds to the story. The narrative is so rich and deep that it probably would have worked even without it but is was another interesting and compelling component and was integrated well so it didn’t seem out of place or forced. The book has a list of characters in the front and a glossary in the back. Usually a book that requires that much built in reference material makes me nervous. I assume they will be hard to follow. But I didn’t have that problem here. There are a lot of people who are related in interesting ways so I did refer to the list of people once in a while to make sure I had everyone straight but for the most part the story flows well enough that I didn’t have to and most of the unfamiliar terms are explained in the text of the story so you don’t become confused or lost. At the end of the book there is a author’s note to tell you what is fact and what is fiction, and also, I was happy to see, a wrap up of what happens to the people after the book has ended, bringing closure to the lives you had become so involved in. I found this a very enjoyable book and look forward to reading more Michelle Moran in the future.
I want to thank Michelle Moran for sending me a copy of Cleopatra's Daughter and letting me have the pleasure of reading her wonderful book.