Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: September 2009, Crown Publishing Group
Source: Purchased from Amazon.com
Synopsis (from BN.com)
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.
My biggest regret with Cleopatra's Daughter is that I waited so long to read it! I purchased this book back when it was popular among the book blogs and I even won a signed bookplate for it, so I can't begin to tell you why I didn't read it then. It simply got lost on my TBR bookshelf for a couple of years (yes, once again I am blaming the Great Blog Hiatus) until I picked it up a couple of days ago. And once I picked it up, I did not want to put it down! I have long been fascinated by ancient Egypt and ancient Rome, but for some reason I have never really ventured into historical fiction written about the people from those times and places. Perhaps I thought it would be difficult to connect to their stories, I'm not sure.
All I really know is that now that I have read one book by Michelle Moran, I must read ALL THE BOOKS! While turning the pages I felt like I was transported back to Selene's world. I haven't read a work of historical fiction that has truly made me feel that way in quite some time. Moran's writing is unbelievably vivid and detailed, but without becoming overly wordy and difficult to follow as can sometimes be the case when trying to provide a picture of a life long ago that the reader must imagine for themselves. She truly brought to life Selene, her brother Alexander, Octavian, and so many other historical figures. While it is, after all, a work of fiction, the story just felt so real -- it was as if I was there watching everything unfold over two thousand years ago.
The amount of research that had to have gone into this story is staggering -- I very much enjoyed reading Moran's afterword and acknowledgments, which gave further insight into Selene's story, as well as some of the other major figures, not to mention the research Moran did. While much of ancient Egypt and Rome is associated with an almost fairytale-like magnificence, Moran reminds us of what life really was like at the time. Not surprisingly, it was often not too pretty -- Moran shows us the darker side of life at the time: corruption, death (whether by illness or not-so-natural causes), and the widespread use of slavery. These hardships, while not necessarily pleasant to read about, are so key to the story. They simply couldn't be glossed over and in my opinion, Moran really does a brilliant job of incorporating them into the book without overwhelming the reader.
Of course, my most favorite part of the book was the ending. I had to go back and re-read the last few pages a few hours after finishing the book, just to savor the sweet moments that would finally bring Selene the happiness she deserved. I admit I suspected what would happen much earlier on in the story (bear in mind I had no historical knowledge of Selene or who she married), but reading it all unfold is so deliciously breathtaking and you can't help but sigh in satisfaction after reading those last few pages of Selene's story.
I now understand firsthand why Michelle Moran's books have received such high praise and raving reviews. If you enjoy historical fiction or ancient Egypt and Rome, you really must read Cleopatra's Daughter. I can't say enough good things about this book and I can't wait to read another of Moran's works soon!