by Michelle Moran
Cleopatra Selene was raised as a Princess of Egypt, and for ten years enjoyed the wealth and beauty of Alexandria under the rule of Queen Cleopatra. But now her mother is dead, and Selene and her siblings are the prisoners of Octavian. After he murders her oldest brother, Caesarion, Octavian decides to take the other children back to Rome as his “guests”, to be raised in the household of his sister. En route, Selene’s youngest brother Ptolemy dies of a fever, so the only relative she has left is her twin brother, Alexander Helios.
The twins are kept busy in their new home, with classes in the morning and entertainments in the evenings. Selene’s talent with drawing eventually leads to an apprenticeship with a master architect, a highly unusual position for a girl, even a royal one. She and Julia, Octavian’s only daughter, become friends and happily study, shop, and watch races with Alexander and Marcellus, Octavian’s heir to power. But Selene’s life is far from stable; her position in Octavian’s political chessboard is unclear. Will she and Alexander one day return to Egypt, married off or killed? Meanwhile, all of Rome wants to know the identity of the mysterious vigilante called the Red Eagle, who is undermining Octavian’s rule by freeing slaves and leaving scathing indictments of the government posted all over town. In a Rome seething with political unrest, can the young prisoners of Octavian hope to find peace?
Michelle Moran’s greatest strength has been her ability to conjure up the sights and sounds of ancient cities, and plant the reader square in the middle of them. The excitement and clamor of Rome’s marketplaces is vivid. I can smell exotic spices from the East and bright fabrics flutter in the wind. The roar of the crowd as they watch a trial of two hundred slaves fills my ears. But not all the scenes depicted could claim the glory of Rome. The choking smoke of a burning building makes me cough. The piteous, weak whimpers of dying infants that have been abandoned are heartbreaking. The evocative language of this book is just wonderful, even if the scenes aren’t.
I did not enjoy the plot quite as much as I did in Moran’s previous two books. There were two main reasons for this. First, while there is a romantic thread running throughout the story, Selene’s eventual match seems to come out of nowhere. There were little hints in the narrative, so I came to suspect who she would end up with pretty early on…but the way she and her man came together was so sudden it felt a little squashed onto the end. Second, the story ends when Selene is fifteen years old. That’s fine and well, but in the Afterward she mentions that Selene married and ruled Mauretania for twenty years. Dude, I want to read THAT story! It sounds fascinating. (Psst – sequel!!!) But the fact that I want to keep reading about Selene beyond the end of Cleopatra’s Daughter is a pretty strong indicator that these little problems did not get in the way of drawing me into the story.
Because the heroine is very young, Cleopatra’s Daughter is being marketed to both an adult and teen audience. Some of the scenes might be a bit graphically violent for younger teens, but I think of them have become so acclimatized to violence that it won’t bother them overmuch. As for historical fiction/historical romance fans, this is one of the books you must pick up this fall. It’s entertaining and exciting and a great escape!
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