Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran

I came by this book through a wonderful blog contest run by Lynn Viehl over at Paperback Writer (The Book Drop Experiment). Each commenter listed their reading preferences, and she drew names to choose a much smaller group to receive a book gift from her.

My list was this:

I’m in it for the story, so it’s hard to limit. I generally prefer non-modern except where urban fantasy and all shades of romance are concerned. I prefer stories with strong characters, though whether complex narratives or candy reads depends on my mood. It’s easier to say what I don’t like than what I do, because it’s the smaller category. I’m pissed off by self-righteous or arrogant main characters who use the people around them without either noticing or caring. And I love being transported to different places or times, to see a bit of our world, or one that only exists in fiction, that I might not have experienced in real life. That’s why in non-fiction I tend to prefer anthropology or historical biography over straight information.

And from that jumble, Lynn sent me a historical fiction that both prompted Monday’s post and kept me fascinated through the whole, even including the historical note in the end, which revealed that, besides one dramatic element created out of a collection of historical events, everything in the story could be substantiated in the historical record.

However, far from a dry, history text, Cleopatra’s Daughter drew me into a world I knew only through old black-and-white Roman movies and brought it to life in full color. The complexity of the times, the choices Octavian makes to be “kind,” the balance of power and manipulation of circumstances is all drawn with a careful brush through the eyes of Cleopatra’s daughter, Selene, as she and her brother are taken to Rome after Octavian conquers Egypt.

It’s hard to talk about the specifics without spoiling something. This is a complex, interwoven tale of dynasty and what is considered necessary to secure it. You’re drawn into a world where fifteen is the age of maturity, and that birthday is all that separates the children from the adults…the innocent from the threats.

Loyalties are both rigid and fluid, strength is in the ability to put on a show, and suspicion and corruption are everywhere.

Coming into this book, I was familiar with Marc Antony and Cleopatra’s tale, though my interest in Egypt has been drawn more to the earlier times of King Tut. But the fact that this couple had children, that they’d been married even, had slipped my notice. This made the book doubly fascinating because, rather than expanding on my existing knowledge, it taught me something I hadn’t known in such a way that it will stick with me.

At the same time, some elements were familiar. The paranoia that characterizes the leaders of Rome, the corruption, the slavery, these were all known to me. Spartacus had an influence on this piece of history as well, though his uprising occurred before the book started.

I don’t know what else to say but if you have any interest in history, or even enjoy fantasy novels set in Roman times, you should find Cleopatra’s Daughter a worthy read. The narrative style is clean and straightforward, which is not to say the story is either, and the story has a lot to teach about the use of, and abuse of, power and money. This is the way to learn history, the way history has been taught for much longer than there have been history textbooks, through teaching tales that entertain so much you don’t recognize the lessons seeped through them until you need them.

Thank you, Lynn, for introducing me to a wonderful tale and a talented author.

Update: Lynn posted how she chose this book for me here:

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