"Fate will find a way".
"Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant"
"Many women long for what eludes them, and like not what is offered them".
Ancient Latin wisdom to start this review of CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER  by Michelle Moran. Just because Selene, Cleopatra's daughter, finds herself sitting  at the same table as Horace or Virgil once she is taken to Rome by Octavian. But let's try to give this post a certain order.


You start leafing through the first pages and you immediately find yourself full immersed in a nightmare: you follow  the events through Selene's eyes, while she is just  losing her family, her roots, her habits, her country, her freedom at 12.
You live the tragic terrorizing  events narrated, knowing that you can stop, just closing your book, but Cleopatra and her young children couldn't: no awakening for them, it was reality; no escape, they were doomed. Their husband/father, Mark Antony had been defeated at Actium by Octavian, their country invaded, Alexandria conquered and their Palace surrounded. Paralized by fear, they wait for their Fate. Selene and Alexander, the 12-year-old twins, and the youngest son Ptolemy, only 7, have to bear both their parents' suicides and then to be  taken to Rome as captives.  The story opens on these shocking crucial moments in Princess Selene's life. She herself, in first person,  tells us about what will happen later on ...
Ptolemy won't survive the long voyage to Rome. Once there, she and her brother Alexander, will endure sufference and lack of freedom but will also experience friendship, love, loyalty, bravery and they'll grow up.

In Rome they live as guarded guests at Octavia's house - Octavian's sister, the woman their father put aside to marry their mother, Cleopatra. They expect her revenge, they find her generosity and understanding, instead. They live and study with Marcellus (Octavia's son, Octavian's nephew and heir); Julia (Octavian's daughter) and Tiberius (Octavian's second wife's, Livia's, son). The group of kids are educated by Magister Verrius, live their first crushes and love experiences, witness terrible unjustices and horrible punishments ( infants rejected and thrown away as rubbish, trials with bought partial juries, hundreds of slaves condemned to death because their master was found dead, crucifixions,  battles of wild animals against gladiators or simple slaves in the circus among others), are excited at the mysterious Red Eagle's fight to free the slaves ( a fascinating Robin Hood-like hero advocating freedom for the humblest), take part in luxurious parties, dream, enjoy themselves . They also suffer from jealousy, fear, passion, disillusionment or suspicion but little by little they grow up, protected and watched by Octavian's most loyal men, General Agrippa and the African Prince,  Juba. The latter, like Alexander and Selene had his parents killed, his kingdom conquered, his freedom stolen by Octavian but , instead of fighting to get his rights back, he has become one of Rome's most influential men, one Octavian can always count on. Selene doesn't like him very much just for this reason: he has not only accepted his fate, he has renounced to fight , he has stooped and now serves the man who has destroyed his life. Selene, instead, will fight for her freedom, she wants to escape, she wants to go back  to Egypt. Will her dreams come true? Will Marcellus, she secretly loves, realize she is the princess he should marry and not Julia? Will Octavian force her and her brother to marry against their will or will he kill them, once they become of age?

I particularly liked to revisit  life in ancient Rome - something I learnt about translating the classic Latin writers many years ago when I was at school - through Michelle Moran's spirited, vivacious style. I was immediately caught in the novel which has revealed a real page-turner. I even neglected sleep to get to finish it: last night I turned the lights off at 1.15 because I wanted to discover who the mysterious Red Eagle was and what Selene's destiny would be! I must admit I didn't expect to like this book so much and, to be even more honest, I must confess that I am deeply struck, amazed, at my positive reaction. It was time since I last  read something so interesting and exciting at the same time. If you like historical fiction, you must get this book and read it, you won't regret it. I'm absolutely glad I did it and definitely proud of my copy of CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER because it is an autographed one. Michelle Moran herself signed it for me as I showed ( off?  ;-) )  in this blogpost HERE.





Lucy said...

Fantastic review, Maria Grazia! I knew you would love this one. Didn't it just tear your heart? Especially the last 50 pages or so, I could not fathom all that sadness..Michelle Moran is a fabulous author. Thanks for this wonderful review

Maria Grazia said...

@ Ms Lucy
Of course, Ms Lucy I have also to thank you for let me discover this fabulous writer! And, you're right! As I wrote, I read the last pages in a no-stop session last night... And this evening, while posting my review I re-read the end ...wonderful. But we can't say more...I hope many other readers will get and appreciate this touching story. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

The book Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran is a captivating fictional coming of age novel told from the point of view of Kleopatra Selene the daughter of Kleopatra VII the queen of Egypt and Marc Antony the Roman consul general. She tells the story of her life and how it changed after Octavian the emperor of Rome and her father biggest enemy conquered Alexandria and brought her, her Alexander Helios her twin brother, and Ptolemy her youngest brother. Unfortunately only two the ten-year-old twins Selene and Alexander survive the journey to Rome. When in Rome the twins stick together with the hope that they will one day return and take their rightful place on the throne of Egypt.
This novel contains two plots the main plot of the story is Selene and her twin brother coming of age in a new place to them. They have to learn to adjust to the education system, the Romans rules and the Roman appearances. Both Selene and Alexander must learn while watching their every step because they are constantly in danger of losing their lives. The story also has an alternate plot which is to find the leader of a mysterious rebellious group of slaves. Octavian was almost assassinated by one of the group members but the main character Selene saves his life by pointing out the attacker before he was able to shoot Octavian.
The book is about the children of Kleopatra and Marc Antony, and there new lives after their parents commit suicide when Octavian/ Augustus conquered Egypt and took them to Rome. This book is set during 323 BC- 31 BC, and it partially takes place in Egypt, but the majority of the book is set in Rome. This book mainly focuses on the rule of Octavian/ Augustus, and how he attempted to be like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great by trying to conquer as much land as possible. In the book during the ceremony held to celebrate Octavian’s triumph in Egypt Octavian gives a speech. In that speech he specially says, “…some of you are wondering why there are no slaves. Perhaps you remember when Julius Caesar conquered Gaul and brought back forty thousand blond barbarians. Now, every woman in Rome wants to be blond. But I will not have our women painting themselves like the whores of Egypt!”(Pp.194). Here we see an example of Octavian making a decision based off of something that Julius Caesar did. In this novel we see Octavian/Augustus attempt to change Rome’s republic ways, to and Empire where he would rule as well.
Michelle Morgan does a great job evoking the right historical atmosphere. She includes very vivid details that are described in such a way that you know it’s from a different time period. One example in the novel is when Julia Alexander and Selene have just woken up and are getting ready for school she says, “I watched Gallia as she carefully laid out a fresh tunic on my couch…I noticed my brother watching her, too, moving more slowly than usual with his toga and sandals…” (pp. 117). This quotation describes the type of clothing worn in this time period. In present day the people do not wear togas and tunics on a daily basis. Michelle Morgan always was very specific when describing what the characters are wearing which was very strong on her part. One weakness was the ending, the beginning of the book immediately got a reader’s attention the middle kept the reader hooked, but the ending is very vague, there aren’t many detail and it leaves a reader hanging. Unless the author plans to create a sequel then a vague ending to such a great novel was not the way to go.

I would definately recommend this book it was great!