. Athena's Books: Cleopatra's Daughter...With a K
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cleopatra's Daughter...With a K

Today's YA Release
I just finished reading Michelle Moran's historical fiction, Cleopatra's Daughter, this past weekend and all I can say is wow. It's been a while since I've been completely engrossed with a novel (not since the last Eva Ibottson book I read), and it was so frustrating not being able to just sit down and read and enjoy. I've been so busy with work and school, and I really wanted to get this book read and have this review out today on the release date. But what was more pressing than the review was simply finding out what would happen to Kleopatra Selene!

Set against the demise of Egypt in 30 BC, the children of Queen Kleopatra VII and Mark Antony fear a sure death and are taken as orphans and prisoners to the Palatine, the throne and heart of the Roman Empire. Although forced to participate in Octavian Caesar's triumphal parade bound by gold chains, the twins, Alexander Helios and Kleopatra Selene are treated as the guests of royalty while living with Octavian's sister, Octavia, and her two younger children. As the last of the impressive bloodline of Alexander the Great, Alexander and Selene, the sun and the moon of Egypt, recieve many priveleges and indulgences in exchange for a few moments of humilation. One evening all invited guests to the Palatine are dressed in stereotypical Egyptian garb that has not been in use for centuries--razored chin length hair and cobra arm cuffs. Or, when Alexander and Selene ride through the triumphal parade next to a figure of their mother with a cobra coiled between her breasts in mockery of her suicide and the notion of Egyptian females as painted women.

In reading Cleopatra's Daughter, you will be swept into the rising world of the Roman Empire. Now, without getting into all the history of what was Rome, I was impressed by Michelle Moran's ability to recreate the ancient world of the first century BC. Everyone regards the Roman Empire for its legacy to western culture and no one can deny the sheer size and power of the empire at its height. But there is another side to Rome. The side of narrow streets, smoke, mud, pungent smells, and plebian riots. The side that looked away from its reliance on slaves and their mistreatment and the use of bribery and flattery and political negotiation in the interest of the patricians, senators, and the ruling family. The side that looked away from its subjugation of women. And, it was all these that contributed to the eventual fall of the Roman Empire, and it is these things that are relevant to plot of Cleopatra's Daughter. People die, slaves are guilty, girls marry old men, women belong to men, and anything said may be misconstrued as traitorous.

To Selene, Rome is nothing like Alexandria, her home in Egypt. Alexandria was the center of the cultured world beginning from the rule of Alexander the Great throughout the Greek world and continuing through the reign of Queen Kleopatra in Egypt. Alexandira was a home of beauty, marble, exquisite design, and a great love affair. A home Selene hopes to return to. But whether she ever will...well, that depends on Caesar--Augustus Caesar (formerly Octavian), the adopted heir of the renown Julius Caesar. Everything is in Caesar's hands even whether she will even see another day. She can only hope to be seen as useful through her artistic and architectural skills and enter a love match with someone who is not older than her father at his death.

You know, I can tell my students all about how slaves kept Rome from advancing, how political leaders endulged in personal interests, how 13 year old girls entered loveless marriages, how Rome was a virtual blood bath, but all my lecturing and anything they read in a textbook can not compare to the intrigue and authenticity of this novel. Here we see Rome for what it truly was. You'll fully understand that to be a women or slave in this ancient world is to have no voice. Yes, I know this is historical fiction, but it is the kind of historical fiction that is extremely authentic in the spirit and legacy of a culture because of the author's painstaking attention to detail that can only come through hours of in-depth research. I appreciate the historical timeline from the death of Alexander the Great to the deafeat of Marc Antony and Kleopatra, the afterword where the author recounts the historical facts surrounding the future of many of the main characters, and the glossery of Roman terms.

I wouldn't call it a historical romance, although it does have that element making it all the better for a person like myself who thinks anything with event the slightest hint of romance is pretty great.

"Well?" Juba stood over me when we were finished.
"They're fine, " I said shortly, dusting my hands on my tunic and rising.
"A perfect job," Vitruvius complemented. "And very handsome sculptures, Juba. Are they all Roman?"
"Only the Venus is Greek. For some reason, I was drawn to her face."
I looked across the Pantheon to the statue of Venus. Perhaps it was my own vanity that made me think I reconginized her. But the nose and possibly the light, painted eyes were similar to mine. I caught Jubal looking at me. Then Gallia dropped her voice and whispered, "She reminds me of Casear's mistress."
"Terentill." Juba nodded. "Yes, Perhaps you're right."

As you can tell...I'm rooting for Juba. A broad-shouldered 20 something year old prince with the form of a Greek god from Numidia who is one of Caesar's right hand men. The one who is always looking out for Selene and the one who may have a genuine interest in all the issues Selene is drawn to. But Selene has fallen for a Roman, a young Apollo. Will she marry either one? Will she be allowed to return to Egypt? Will she be accepted as an architect? Will Selene and her world discover the identity of the Red Eagle, champion of the slaves and freedmen? Her fate, as well as the fate of an entire empire...well, it's in Caesar's hands.

But the romance is not the story. The story is Selene and her journey to womanhood amidst the backdrop of the emerging Roman Empire grappling with the use and treatment of slaves, a growing orphan problem, and rising mob mentaliy by the masses. The Roman Republic promoted the fair treatment of all citizens through the establishment of the Twelve Tables, but who were the citizens of the Republic? Not the poor, the slave, or the woman, nor were they in the time of the Roman Empire. Please realize the Roman Empire endured from 46 BC through 476 AD. Augustus Caesar died in 14 BC, but the Rome he helped to establish lasted over 400 years. His reign began the Pax Romana, or time of peace, but really what does that mean? Rome may not have had any political rivals, but within the walls, within the Roman roads--the plebians, slaves, and women suffered. Imagine the state of Rome in 476 AD.