Home > Book, Book Review, Historical Fiction, Reviews > Book Review – ‘Cleopatra’s Daughter’ by Michelle Moran

Book Review – ‘Cleopatra’s Daughter’ by Michelle Moran

January 18, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Book Description:

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.

I don’t really read much historical fiction, but I am known in my circles for being open to pretty much anything when bored enough… Anyway, someone evidently thought I might like ‘Cleopatra’s Daughter‘ by Michelle Moran since I found it prettily wrapped under the tree this holidays.

As the title says, this novel throws the spotlight NOT on Marc Antony and Cleopatra, but on their children, specifically the twins Selene and Alexander. The book is told from Selene’s POV and we follow the twins’ story from the time of their parents’ suicides at age 10 in Alexandria to when they come of age at age 15 in Rome. I guess that’s the new gimmick these days with historical fiction – write about lesser known historical figures who lived with or were related to the really really famous? Kinda like The Other Boleyn Girl (well, Philippa Gregory seems to have a very successful career off this gimmick, so I can understand this approach.)

Michelle Moran seems to have done her research on both Egypt and Rome and tried her best to adhere to what’s known (well that’s what she claims on her author’s note). Roman culture, customs, fashion, politics (i.e. slavery, trials), even architecture are touched on pretty extensively. But since this is historical fiction and not a biography, Michelle Moran does claim artistic license and adds main characters who never actually existed (ex: the slave Gallia, Spoiler Alert! Alexander’s gay lover Lucius – sorry for the spoiler – but she turns Alexander gay, and a bizarre ‘Red Eagle’ rebel character who actually turns into a major sub-plot!) which really really spoils things for me. I hate it (as in pet peeve territory) when too much artistic license is taken, since it tends to spoil the pot – hell, the history is fascinating by itself without adding fake stuff (i.e. the fictional ‘Red Eagle’) to the mix! Also, I almost couldn’t get through the first chapter – mostly because I really hated Ms Moran’s portrayal of Cleopatra (spelled with a K – Kleopatra) who couldn’t seem to speak without an exclamation mark! – so just a warning to other readers – just get through the first part and it gets better.

Now, pet peeves aside, I have to say that I did find the entire novel very entertaining, and who isn’t fascinated by Egypt and Rome anyway? Put a prince and princess of Egypt growing up in Rome into the mix – and it’s definitely a very interesting storyline. Ms Moran is never boring (and never really falls into a lecturing-mode either), has an easy-to-read writing style, and really, I give her plus points for being able to paint a real, pulsating, breathing Rome for the readers. I could totally visualize and even smell Rome at times – what can I say – I’ve got a good imagination and Ms Moran has a very vivid way of writing. Selene, as Ms Moran’s mouthpiece, is a sympathetic character and although I did find her (and all the kids in the novel actually) too precocious by far – but I guess that compared to now, these kids would be very precocious. Afterall, the life expectancy in Roman times was in the mid-20s so people had to grow up fast. And these aren’t normal kids afterall, but princes and princesses – as Ms Moran contends, think of them kinda like child stars (an example that comes to my mind is Dakota Fanning).

So, getting back to the book… sorry, I really get side-tracked, don’t I? Through Selene and her brother Alexander, we get a chance to meet famous Roman figures like Octavian (later known as Augustus), his sister Octavia, daughter Julia, the future emperor Tiberius, etc. and really, another plus point for Ms Moran – she doesn’t make monsters out of anyone (well, maybe Octavian’s wife Livia who is pretty shrew-like here), but actually creates full-fledged personalities for most of the characters. You end up feeling like you really know these figures well (which made the ending extra bittersweet for me since I actually ended up liking Alexander’s character the most in the novel – okay, no specific spoilers, but I cried. a little. at that part I won’t spoil.)

I think this would be a good book to get a young adult actually – it’s likely to spark an interest in getting to know more about ancient history. And young girls could probably identify with Selene, who learns to adjust to her new life, gain friends and actually realizes ‘true love’ – the romantics will probably enjoy the embellishments Ms Moran adds (particularly concerning a certain necklace…) I thought Ms Moran did a great job showing Rome in its brutality and corruption, and at the same time, its majesty, sophistication and modernism. At the very least, it puts a human face to dusty historical figures.

Cleopatra’s Daughter is available in Amazon as a Hardcover ($16.50), Paperback ($10.20), Kindle Edition ($9.99) and Audio CD ($22.79).

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