Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review: Cleopatra's Daughter

Summary: 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. -- Crown

If you are familiar with me and my blog, then you probably already know that I am a huge fan of Michelle Moran and her novels. I have been anxiously awaiting her latest novel CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER for quite awhile -- actually since my book club was fortunate enough to talk with her during one of our meetings last year. Not only did I love both of her prior historical fiction novels NEFERTITI and THE HERETIC QUEEN (you can read my review of THE HERETIC QUEEN here), but ancient Rome is absolutely my favorite place and time period as well.

I am happy to report that I was not disappointed with CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER. It definitely met my expectations (and they were set pretty high.) Ever since back in high school (where I took four years of Latin and watched I Claudius every Friday), I have been extremely interested in ancient Rome. I have read a few books about Rome throughout the years and I was addicted to the HBO series Rome, but I still want more! I don't think I will ever get tired of these historical figures and their antics!

I love the way that Ms. Moran decided to tell the story in this novel. She wrote the book in first person through the voice of Selena, the daughter of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. The story begins when Mark Antony and Cleopatra take their own lives, and their remaining children -- Selena and her two brothers -- are taken away in chains from Egypt to Rome by their enemy Octavian. Selena was a wonderful young girl (and eventually a wonderful young woman) who seemed mature beyond her years. Of course, she grew up in the refined and cultured Egypt; and she spent a great deal of time being educated with adults. I thought the blend of Selena's maturity along with her naivete because of her age made this story and her insight extra-special. I especially loved Selena's reactions when she reached Rome -- that it wasn't anywhere near as sophisticated as Egypt!

I absolutely loved Selena and I truly appreciated her spunk! It was clear to her that she was living as a prisoner under Octavian's rule, and yet she still never forget her parents and her homeland. She wasn't afraid to say what was on her mind (at times to her detriment); however, she still had enough sense to know how to play the different characters against each other. In addition, I liked that Ms. Moran portrayed Selena as a young girl who was very bright and loved to study architecture. In this novel, Selena not only studied with a skilled teacher, but she also used her talent and knowledge about buildings to help design new structures.

Although Selena was a young girl and did make a few mistakes along the way, she still had many admirable traits. First and foremost, I loved how loyal she was to her family and friends. I don't want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that she was extremely generous and grateful to those who helped her. In many ways, CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER was a coming-of-age story about Selena, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing her mature throughout this novel. I especially liked the ending and how Selena came to realize who and what she should value.

It probably goes without saying that I loved all of the historical information that was woven into this novel. I'm sure Ms. Moran embellished the lives of the main characters, but it seems to me that many of the characters in ancient Rome needed little help. Everything I've ever seen or read about the lives of the early Romans is filled with all the elements of a good story (or at least, a soap opera) -- love, adultery, affairs, mystery, murder, etc. Much of this novel brought back memories of things I had already known, but I was amazed by how many new things I learned about this ancient civilizations of Egypt and Rome. I can't believe how advanced these societies were and how little some things have changed over thousands of years.

Michelle Moran is without a doubt one of my very favorite authors. I will read anything and everything she writes -- guaranteed. I think she is a master of historical fiction, and I believe that there are few writers that capture my interest like she does. The amount of research she conducts for each of her books is absolutely amazing; and what's even more astounding is how many ideas and projects she has going at one time. In addition to being a great writer, Ms. Moran is really as nice as can be too. She is extremely friendly (and generous) with book clubs and bloggers, and she even has a special place on her website just for bloggers. Make sure you visit her site and check out all of her beautiful photos from her travels around the world.

Of course, I highly recommend CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER, especially for book clubs. My group discussed NEFERTITI (along with a chat with Ms. Moran), and it was a wonderful meeting. I think that CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER would make for an equally interesting discussion. One thing that I found so special about this particular Ms. Moran novel is that it is geared towards both the adult as well as the YA audience. In fact, there are multiple reading guides for this novel - one for YA and one for adults. I can't wait until the girls in my mother-daughter book club are old enough to discuss (and appreciate) this novel! What I loved about both guides is that there was a great mix of historical questions about Rome and the culture as well as questions about the different characters and their actions.

Truth be told, I enjoyed CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER so much that I'm hoping for a sequel or a prequel! So many of the characters in this book were absolutely fascinating and could definitely provide enough material for their own story! In the meantime, if you know a good book about Ancient Rome that you think I might enjoy, would you please leave the title and/or author's name in a comment? Thanks!


Caroline Starr Rose said...

This is the second review I've read. Looks like I'll need to pick it up! I loved George's The Memoirs of Cleopatra.

Anna said...

I'll be reading this one next, and I can't wait. I feel the same way you do...I'll read anything Moran writes. Her books have blown me away so far.

Diary of an Eccentric

bermudaonion said...

Fantastic review! Your love of the book is so evident. You've made me very anxious to read this book!

Beth F said...

Okay, okay . . . I will somehow find a way to move this up in the stack!

Books We Read said...

My blog is giving away jewelry set in exhcange for book reviews. I wonder if you could publish a post to announce the participation info on your blog:

We haven't reviewed Cleopatra's Daugther, and would welcome anyone submitting a review of this book in exchange for a jewelry set.

Thank you.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm glad to hear this because I won this book and it will be coming soon. So I am excited to read it!

S. Krishna said...

I have high expectations too, so I'm glad this book met them!