Sunday, May 6, 2012

Book Review: Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

The marriage of Marc Antony and Cleopatra is 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 in Rome, the lovers choose to die by their own hands as the triumphant armies of Antony's revengeful rival, Octavian, sweep into Egypt. Their three orphaned children are taken in chains to Rome; only two- the ten-year-old twins Selene and Alexander-survive the journey. 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 by the longings and desires deep within their own hearts.

The fateful tale of Selene and Alexander is brought brilliantly to life 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 the 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 find a path around the dangers of a foreign land. Her accounts of life in Rome 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.

Based on meticulous research, Cleopatra's Daughter is a fascinating portrait of imperial Rome and of the people and events of this glorious and most tumultuous period in human history. Emerging from the shadows of the past, Selene, a young woman of irresistible charm and preternatural intelligence, will capture your heart.

Synopsis courtesy of

My Review

4 Stars

While Egyptian Queen Cleopatra is one of history's most famous figures, little is known about her daughter with Marc Anthony, Kleopatra Selene.   Michelle Moran's wonderful novel, Cleopatra's Daughter, brings this little known figure to life.  The reader is first introduced to Selene, and her twin brother Alexander, as Egypt falls to the mighty Roman empire.  After the suicide of their mother and death of their father,  Roman Emperor Octavian forces Selene and Alexander to leave their beloved Egypt for Rome.  Upon their arrival in the imperial city, Selene and Alexander are placed in the home of Octavian's sister, Octavia, and raised with her children -- two of whom are the product of her marriage to Marc Anthony and thus half-siblings to the Egyptian twins.  Growing up in patrician Rome in a household closely connected to Octavian, Selene has the opportunity to meet many of Rome's key political and artistic figures, and is even given the chance to study architecture -- her lifelong passion -- with one of Rome's premier architects.   While she is essentially held captive and thus has little opportunity to chose her ultimate path in life, it nevertheless remains the greatest hope of Selene to one day return to Egypt with Alexander and restore the Ptolemaic dynasty.  Over the course of the novel, however, she quickly comes to understand that the realization of this dream depends solely on Octavian, but it is not within his or Rome's best interests to restore the dynasty.   Will Selene ever see Egypt again?  Or will see come to accept that her life belongs to Rome now?

This is the second of Michelle Moran's novels that I've had the pleasure to read -- the first being Madame Tussaud -- and the second with which I've been impressed.   Through her attention to historical detail, Moran vividly brings to life ancient Rome both in its splendour and in its horridness.   The novel's principal characters are engaging and well-developed, particularly the heroine, Selene, who comes across as an intelligent, thoughtful and sometimes impetuous young woman.   The book's secondary and tertiary characters, which include some of ancient Rome's best known historical figures, help to illuminate the political and social context in which this novel is set.   My one small qualm with the book relates to the Red Eagle storyline (the Red Eagle is an anonymous Roman whose acts of rebellion seek to motivate the patrician class to end slavery).  The Red Eagle and his rebellion are completely fictitious.  I don't have a problem with the fictitious nature of this storyline in and of itself, and do appreciate that it helped move certain key plot points forward, but the it did not feel authentic to me.  That is, the Red Eagle's actions are not something I could envision actually having happened in ancient Rome and, for this reason, I would have preferred less emphasis to have been placed on it.  

Overall, Cleopatra's Daughter is an entertaining novel that is sure to appeal to all fans of historical fiction. 

Note:  This novel comes from my own personal collection.