This reviewer will admit to having studied Latin (and consequently old Rome) for five years between high school and college. During that time I found Roman history interesting. Period. But Michelle Moran picks up the story in the years after Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. Told from the point of view of Kleopatra Selene, we are privy to the lives of she and her twin, Alexander Helios, from their tenth year through their fifteenth birthdays.
The twins are the only remaining offspring of Marc Antony and Kleopatra VII of Egypt. Their two brothers, Antyllus and Caesarion, have been killed by Octavian of Rome as they are threats to the throne. Along with their younger brother Ptolemy, the three are taken aboard one of their mother’s ships and brought to Rome. Unfortunately, young Ptolemy does not survive the trip. Brought to live in the house of Octavia, sister of Octavian and former wife of Marc Antony, they are treated respectfully although they are paraded through the streets as part of Octavian’s Triumphal parade.
The twins lead an interesting life in Rome and the reader is afforded a look at the various class structure of the Roman empire. Vivid and detailed descriptions of historical places that I’d only read about seemed to jump off the pages for me, bringing old Rome alive. The characters that once seemed so noble in my Latin classes now became human and it was easy to see that their nobility was nothing more than a mask. Beneath their air of civility lurked their barbarism. Throughout the story we are reminded that once the twins reach their fifteenth birthday they run the very real risk of being killed as they would become even more of a threat to Octavian.
Coming of age in Octavian’s Rome, Selene describes in detail the working of the Senate and the court as well as the personal ambitions of members of the emperor’s family. And their ambitions are as varied as are their positions. Woven throughout the story is a plot of intrigue and danger that encompasses all of Imperial Rome and its citizens. Throughout the story Selene and Alexander must manage to stay alive and carry on the legacy of Egyptian royalty as best they can. It is her hope that by making herself useful to Octavian that he will one day allow her to return to Egypt and so she uses her artistic abilities to study under the architect Vitruvius.
I was engrossed from the first page of this meticulously researched and detailed story. By page two I was immersed in the sacking of Alexandria by Octavian and his Roman armies. On page three, Selene captured my heart. She is intelligent, precocious, and pretty. When her mother takes her own life, it is Selene who becomes the nurturer for her two brothers. Like her mother, Selene is a strong, independent young woman who lives an entire lifetime between her tenth and her fifteenth birthdays.
Cleopatra’s Daughter is the third book by author Michelle Moran that I’ve read and I have yet to be disappointed. It is clear to this former Latin student that Ms. Moran has put the time and effort into her writing that continue to earn her five stars from this reader. I look forward to her other two books.
Rating: 5 stars