Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cleopatra's Daughter - Michelle Moran

Cleopatra's Daughter
Michelle Moran
Crown
Copyright Date: 2009
978-0307409126

The amazon.com description:
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.

The story starts out with the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra, then follows the life of their three children, Alexander, Selene and Ptolomy as they are forced to go to Rome and live in Octavian's family.

From the perspective of Selene, we meet Octavian (Augustus), Livia and a whole host of other Roman figures, including Julia, Octavian's daughter, and Marcellus, who is his heir. There's also Tiberius, the son of Livia.

This is a book that's good for both older teens and adults. There's nothing overly descriptive in terms of violence or sex, but the descriptions there are are enough to bring the scenes, characters and Roman lifestyle vividly to life. The settings of the story included the Colosseum, Capri, the Forum and the Palatine hill, among others.

There's slightly less of the descriptions of food, settings and scenery in Cleopatra's Daughter than there were in Michelle Moran's previous two books, but there's still enough to get a feeling for the world of Ancient Rome.

It's clear that the author loves ancient history, as she's done a wonderful job setting the stories she writes in that world: first ancient Egypt with Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen, and now the beginnings of Imperial Rome.

Reading Suetonius and Tacitus gave me a bit of a mental picture for some of the characters such as Julia and Livia, and I have to say, Michelle Moran's characterizations are vivid, and spot on with the ancient sources. She's woven a good story with a satisfying ending. I'll leave it up to you to decide if it's actually a "happy" ending. It does resolve all the plot points of the story though.

I really like the weaving of history and fiction in Cleopatra's Daughter, and the historical notes at the end of the book make it even better, as there she elaborates a bit on exactly what was historical fact, and which elements the author chose to add to the story. But, when I was reading it, I couldn't really tell them apart - mark of a good storyteller.

One thing Michelle Moran has done with her previous two books is inspire me to go looking for more information about the historical figures she's written about. Cleopatra's Daughter is no different.

I'm going to make this a double recommendation and suggest reading Jo Graham's Hand of Isis as well. The former is historical fantasy, while this one is historical fiction, but I think the two books go well together. Either way, Cleopatra's Daughter picks up where Jo Graham's book ended, almost exactly.

I loved Cleopatra's Daughter and I can't recommend it enough. Michelle Moran has written a book where the anticipation and the wait to read it has definitely been worth it (and the late nights reading).
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