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 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 by the longings and desires within their own hearts." (From the jacket flap of the Crown edition.)
In a nutshell, I think Cleopatra's Daughter is Michelle Moran's best work to date. While both Selene and Alexander do seem rather mature for their age in the book, Michelle explains in the author's note with the observation that they are the offspring of one of the most educated rulers in the history of Egypt. In addition, during a time when life expectancy was significantly less than it is now, for both natural and unnatural reasons in the case of royalty, one had little choice other than to mature quickly if one was to survive.
There are a number of characters beyond Selene for a reader to get attached to, not the least being her twin, Alexander, who was my favorite. I also enjoyed the portrayal of both Octavia and Octavian, the latter being complex enough to merit some sympathy despite the brutality of his rule.
As always, Michelle's excellent research brings the time period home to the reader. It's a great place to begin learning about Ancient Rome, post-Julius Caesar. And if you haven't had enough once you're finished with Cleopatra's Daughter, may I suggest I, Claudius by Robert Graves?
NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)
Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!