Cleopatra's Daughter tells the story of Cleopatra VII's children in the aftermath of the great queen's death. The viewpoint is that of the very likeable Cleopatra Selene, who, along with her twin brother Alexander Helios and younger brother Ptolemy, were the children of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.
The orphaned children are hauled off to Rome and into the home of Octavia, where Selene's life becomes entwined with some of the great figures of Ancient Rome, including Octavian, his wife Livia, his daughter Julia, and the future emperor Tiberius. The children dwell in uncertainty, never knowing if they will be allowed to live, or what their future hopes might be - - and I don't want to give away too much of what happens. But, remember, all those around Octavian had reason to be cautious, if not actually fearful.
An enthralling aspect of the book is how the author has carefully portrayed not only Ancient Rome itself, but also what is known of the personalities of these famous Romans. We meet a willful young Julia and a sinister young Tiberius, and we know exactly who they are and what they will be like when they grow up.
Almost all of the action takes place in Rome, so the book may be of more interest to those wanting to read about Rome than those wanting to read about Egypt.
A brief timeline and list of characters at the beginning of the book and a glossary at the end help those who may need a refresher in who's who and what's what.
There is a fictional subplot about the search for the leader of an underground anti-slavery movement that I sometimes found to be distracting. I personally would have wished that the author had spent less time on him and on Selene's youth and continued on to Selene's adulthood, especially after her marriage (or is there a sequel planned?). However, younger readers especially may not care about that and may identify more with Selene growing up (this book is suitable for teens and adults), and I do admire the author for having the courage to introduce such serious themes as slavery and abandoned children.
Cleopatra Selene certainly lived an interesting life (not always in the best way) and must have been a fascinating and admirable person. Her life "after the book" is summarized in the Afterword.
on July 21, 2010
I had high hopes for this book.
I've recently finished Colleen McCullough's Roman series and I was hungry for more. When I heard of a book that fills in the years between the battle of Actium and Robert Graves' "I Claudius", I eagerly snapped it up.
Unfortunately, this author has no business trying to enter the company of Graves and McCullough.
Many other reviewers here have already pointed out a number of inaccuracies in this book, as well as the superficiality of its characters. But that's simply bad writing. If that was the only problem, I wouldn't have bothered writing this review. But there's another problem with this book that I must speak up about.
The author draws Selene as if she's a teenager from Boston, who's never known anything but liberal politics. A modern American kid, who dozed off during history class the day they talked about Rome --100% clue-free about the ancient world.
Selene is shocked-I-tell-you-shocked! at how Rome treats its lower classes. Oh please.
Selene is the daughter of a Pharaoh, who essentially owned all of Egypt. So did all Egyptian slaves have health insurance and pension plans? She lived in the household of a head of state who went to war against Rome and her father was a Roman. How could she be so laughably ignorant about it when she arrives?
The historical Selene would have known *precisely* how severe the punishments would be for slaves attempting to assasinate a ruler, in Rome or out of it. Instead we get a time-travelling American teenager who thinks it's completely unfair to take away her iPod, let alone execute slaves. Oh the shock, the horror!
Enough. I can't read another page of this drivel. Done now.
on August 11, 2010
I just finished reading Cleopatra's Daughter and am very disappointed. The book could have been so much better! Moran clearly did some research into Roman society but missed the boat on some basics of Roman culture, i.e. patrician women did not have individual names, they took the name of their clan, hence a daughter of the Antonii clan would be called Antonia. Multiple daughters would be named, Antonia Maior and Antonia Minor. There were other dicey historical bits but I won't list them here.
What really bugged me was the derivative plotline. She clearly read the Scarlet Pimpernel and transmuted him into the "Red Eagle" (a masked, patrician do-gooder who drives Octavian nuts) Could the Red Eagle be Marcellus? Or the Greek tutor? They seek him here, they seek him there, they seek that demmed Pimpernel everywhere!!!
Apart from Selene, the remaining characters are plaster cut-outs, lacking any dimension. Octavian is power-hungry. Livia is just a bitch. Octavia an earth-mother and Tiberius a supercilious jerk.
I've read I, Claudius, which is based on the writings of Suetonius, and there is a whole lot more to the family of Augustus than this story attempts. As juvenile fiction, it's below par. As ordinary fiction, you can find better. As historical fiction, go read Mary RenaultThe Bull from the Sea if you want well-researched, interesting, character driven stories about the ancient world!!
Michelle Moran's third book is a fun little diversion that incorporates historical fact into a borderline soap operatic plot involving the surviving children of Cleopatra and Antony and their lives in Rome following the death of their parents and their subsequent capture by Octavian. Moran has enough self control to keep the storyline from veering off into absurdity, but at times I felt as if I was reading a Roman-era version of Gossip Girl, complete with spoiled, petulant princesses, irresponsible teenaged boys, and top-of-the-line conniving across the board. Moran's writing style has much improved, and was free of the repetitive word usage and annoying turns of phrase that plagued her last two efforts. As always, she definitely did her homework when it comes to Roman/Egyptian history, and she is adept at creating personae for historical characters. She adds a human quality to such well-known Roman figures as Octavian/Augustus, Octavia, Cleopatra Selene, Julia the Elder and Juba II. The book's subplot, which involves a mystery hero who attempts to incite a slave rebellion, is a little over-the-top, but Moran is able to rein things in just enough to keep the storyline from getting too ridiculous. The same is true for the book's conclusion - it's a little schmlatzy, but doesn't sink the whole story. In all, Moran's latest novel is a fine addition to her other two Egypt-based books. The humanizing elements she's added to her characters gives the book a light feeling and adds to the excitement generated by the subplot. It's a lot of fun - perfect summer reading!
on April 30, 2012
I was fooled by the promos for this book.
I had no idea it was a YA novel. Not advertised as such, and the first few pages of war, death, parental suicide etc. seem a bit much for a young adult to read, even under the guise of 'historical fiction'. However, the YA slant quickly became clear when the book degenerated to Valley Girl teenage angst, makeup sessions, and shopping parties in ancient Rome.
Likewise I was misled by the back cover comments about 'meticulous research' for this book. Wrongo! My background in Classics is basic, but even I found numerous glaring historical and social errors throughout. Girls and boys in ancient Rome didn't 'go to school' together. Upper class girls rarely had any formal schooling beyond the basics, as the attitude was that they should stick to learning how to run a household and anything else was beyond them. Brothers and sisters were not allowed to share sleeping quarters as teens, and indeed they lead pretty separate lives long before age 10, as did Roman men and women. Both sexes dining together was right out for adults, though exceptions might be made for Caesar's family and younger children. These are just the minor gripes.
The major ones are that the book reads like a pack of present-day mall-rat teenagers were somehow transplanted into ancient Rome. Also I disliked the "Red Eagle' subplot, not just because it is complete fiction, but because it is clumsy, hackneyed, and totally unnecessary. Also there were major political and historical gaffes too numerous to go into here. This is a great pity, because this author has a lot of writing talent. Too bad she doesn't write what she knows.
Call this a Roman / Egyptian novel if you must, but label it for what it is, young adult romance fiction. Don't market it for adults, and please, please don't make any claims to historical accuracy. It reminds me too much of one of the worst historical movies ever made, The Black Shield of Falworth, a medieval costume drama in which a certain young actor declares, in heavy Bronx accents, "Yondah lies da castle of my faddah!"
on November 29, 2009
Michelle Moran has written a book that has left me with that feeling I have when I know I have read something wonderful. Well written... I entered at the point that Cleopatra and Marc Anthony are taking their own lives in order to resist captivity and learn of their three children who are left in the enemies hands. Three children, I am ashamed to say, that I did not know existed until this book.
And from that point on I am feasting on pages filled with the adventures of Alexander and Selene... historical fiction at a very fine level. I am in awe of the twins voices... as they speak I had to remind myself again and again of their age. The voices to me seamed older but I forget how much faster children grew up then. While they were 11, they spoke as though they were 15 or 16...
Vivid characters - I appreciated the list of who they were in the front of the book and I used that a lot as I becasme used to so any new names coming in at once, Octavian (Emporer and keeper of the children once he conquered their home), Octavia, his sister - a gentle soul who I grew to like. And so many more from the handsome Marcellus, to the puzzling Julia who drove me nuts, then I felt bad for her, then I was mad again... and oh - you have to love the characters that make you FEEL.
I adored this book. This is the first of Michelle's work that I have read and I am ready for more. A fantastic read that I highly recommend to history lovers and historical fiction loves alike.
Somebody finally wrote a historical novel about Romans and their lives without having them copulating in every other paragraph. Thumbs up to that. What has made this book less than enjoyable for me is the fact that the first three fourths of it is about a 12 year old. In the last few chapters, the heroine attains fifteen, but never grows older. Readers never meet Selene, the married woman or adult. Therefore, it felt like a young adult book.
Upon the death of her parents and younger brother, the famed Cleopatra's daughter, Selene and her twin brother arrive in Rome as the "guests" of Octavian, the man who conquered Egypt. After an embarrassing parade and meeting both friends and enemies, Selene and her brother begin living a Roman life. To me this novel felt like a retelling of a Roman childhood following a group of friends that go to the circus, bet on the horses, attend school and every now and then hear about a slave revolt. In between, there were bits of Roman history and tidbits about the politics, customs, poets, buildings, and family tensions.
In the afterword, the author tells us that Selene and the man she ends up marrying at the very end "became one of the greatest love stories to come out of Imperial Rome." Where is the love story? Lack of romance is my other complaint. Until the very end almost, there was nil. Selene and her husband ruled for twenty years and she rebuilt Alexandria. Now THAT is what I would like to read about. The love she had with her husband, the twenty years she ruled, and her life as an architect. That interests me so much more than her childhood. Another tantalizing tidbit in the afterword regards Julia, Selene's friend. Apparently, after two marriages and facing a third to her stepbrother, Julia rebelled and her own father had her arrested.
I would rather read about the amazing women mentioned in the afterword, not a bunch of kids growing up in Rome.
on December 26, 2010
I could not finish this novel, it was so poorly written and under-researched. In the beginning, I thought the characters seemed a bit two dimensional, but I plodded on until the characters got ready to sail to Brundisium. An 8 week journey? That was almost as long asittook the Mayflower to cross the Atlantic! Then, when they get to Rome, the main character who has been going on about how Greek they are in their culture is unfamiliar with reclining to dine. I just couldn't continue. I am so sorry that I wasted my money on this book.
Later, just to check that I was not wrong in my impression, I googled around and discovered that the usual journey time between Alexandria and Brundisium was about 2 weeks. And why did they sail there, rather than Ostia or Puteoli?
If you are a fan of Steven Saylor's "Roma sub Rosa" series, Colleen McCullough's "Masters of Rome" series, Lindsey Davis's Falco stories, or Gillian Bradshaw's novels set in the Classical period, you will probably dislike this book as much as I did. Avoid it.
This novel compares very poorly with Gillian Bradshaw's "Cleopatra's Heir" which imagines if Caesarion survived the war.
on October 13, 2009
In this third novel by author, Michelle Moran, the reader is swept from the pyramids of Egypt into the glory of Rome. Cleopatra's daughter, Selene, is the narrative voice of the novel as she journeys into the year 30 B.C. and the decadence of the Eternal City.
The novel is geared to appeal to a wider audience, which includes young adults. Thus most readers will find this novel a smooth, comfortable read. Nevertheless, it packs a mighty punch. The strength of this novel is not only found in its intricate details of architecture, art, sport, fashions, and politics of the time, but is also rich with court intrigues and brutalities of the Roman Empire when it was at its peak.
For lovers of historical fiction, Michelle Moran's books never disappoint, and this novel is no exception. Filled with grand details and numerous emotional scenes, the reader is immersed in the times, so accurately and confidently portrayed. A hgihly recommended read.
on September 20, 2009
A new voice in historical fiction lately has been author Michelle Moran. Her first novels, Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen, have reached the bestseller lists, and have created a legion of fans. Now Ms. Moran has another story that starts in ancient Egypt, but quickly moves onward to the just as interesting world of ancient Rome.
The story begins a year after the disastrous battle of Actium, where Mark Anthony and Cleopatra (here spelled Kleopatra) lost. Now Kleopatra has received word that Octavian, the heir of Julius Caesar, is coming to Alexandria to not just make Kleopatra his prisoner, but to add Egypt to his empire. Told through the eyes of Cleopatra Selene, the only daughter of the queen and Mark Anthony and the twin of Alexander Helios, we see the suicide of the lovers, and the final end of pharaonic Egypt after three thousand years of being the superpower of the Middle East. Now Octavian takes the three surviving children of Cleopatra -- Alexander, Selene and Ptolemy -- to Rome, not just to be displayed in his upcoming triumph, but as they are the children of Mark Anthony, good little Romans as well.
Selene is terrified that she will be murdered after the triumph -- after all, her beloved eldest brother, Caesarion had been killed at Octavian's order -- and her littlest brother has perished on the voyage to Rome. But when given over to the care of Octavian's sister, Octavia -- who just happens to be the former wife of Mark Anthony -- Selene finds a haven of sorts. Within the home of Octavia, Selene makes friends, such as Octavian's daughter, Julia, and Octavia's brood of children, especially the very handsome Marcellus. But as in all beautiful things, there's just a hint of evil, mostly in the form of Livia, Octavian's bitch of a wife, and her sour elder son, Tiberius.
While Octavia encourages Selene's love of art and architecture, and allows her to have a voice of her own, albeit a very small one. However, Livia does everything she can to diminish Selene, bullying her and seeking to humiliate her. But most interesting is her relationship with Octavian, who alternately seems to want to see her grow up, but also has the fearsome power to end her life with a word if he so chooses. Caught between the two worlds of Egypt and Rome, Selene dances on a very slim tightrope indeed...
Along with the historical figures of Agrippa and Juba, a royal who has become Octavian's right hand man and more Roman than the Romans, Ms. Moran introduces several fictional characters -- Gallia, a Gaulish slave of Octavia's who becomes a friend of Selene, and one that simply made me grind my teeth together in annoyance.
That is the freedom fighting Red Eagle, seeking to redress the injustices of a civilization built on slavery, and the excesses of the upper classes with their immense wealth. No one knows who the Red Eagle is, but he's certainly giving Octavian fits as he posts his notices all over Rome, and inciting the People. Grimly, Octavian sets a bounty on this mysterious person's head, and continues to consolidate his power as he rises to become the first Emperor of the Romans.
Selene, as our young teenage heroine, is of course horrified by Roman slavery, where an entire household of slaves can be executed if another slave murders the master of a household, juries are bribed, and everything not Roman seems to be endlessly crushed under the heel of omnipotent Rome. I guess she wanted us to know that the Romans were nasty, decadent people who had great art and engineering but were at heart murderous swine. So she inserts a fictional character into the story who is far better suited to the nineteenth century swashbuckler, and seems to conveniently forget that the ancient world was built on slavery, and that emancipation is in the long run of things, a pretty recent invention. Too, as with nearly all of Ms. Moran's heroines, Selene is an unusually bright and precocious teenager, who escapes danger by a hairsbreadth, and tends to fly off with her mouth than what would have been wise for a political prisoner, or at least, fills her head with thoughts that are better suited to a modern girl. Of course, there are plenty of details as to dress and jewelry and mourning the loss of Egypt, and the like, as what would be expected in a historical novel of this sort.
If I am sounding a bit too harsh here, it is because this novel had so much potential and completely wasted it on drivel. If Ms. Moran wanted to write a story that was set in the dawn of the Roman Empire, there are more than enough original sources for the time to create plenty of plot and drama -- instead, she squanders most of the novel on the fictional Red Eagle and a nonexistent slave rebellion that is simmering under the surface. In the real Roman Empire, any thought of slave rebellion was effectively crushed by what happened to Spartacus and his army, who were crucified along the Appian Way that even made the traditional Romans blanch a bit, and was thought to be too excessive. By the time of this story, it was recent enough to quell any thought of a mass uprising. Too, by this time, Rome was bled out by the endless civil wars that had brought down the Republic, and I would wager, everyone wanted some peace and quiet to bring back some prosperity and wealth. Indeed, the rule of Octavian/Augustus was the golden age of the Roman Empire, where power was consolidated in the form of the Emperor and the Legions, and a strong central government was established.
Another disappointment in this one was that the final resolution is so silly and pat that I wanted to fling the book at the wall and swear awhile. For of course, we have romantic involvements for the heroine, but once again Ms. Moran takes the limp way out and has one of the most unsatisfying romances that I have ever read take place. There's no fire, no passion, nothing to tell me that this is a couple that are seriously interested in each other. I can forgive a lot in a historical novel if the characters are well rounded and developed to where I can see and feel for them as people, not just thin figures in fancy dress.
Finally, and this is where I was so frustrated with the novel, Ms. Moran uses some actual details of Roman life and custom in her story. Pollio's eel pond is factual along with the smashing crystal, unwanted children were exposed to the elements to die (but were also adopted by childless couples), Alexander and Selene were indeed displayed in Octavian's triumph (but with their younger brother Ptolemy and in a golden cage carried by a legion), the races in the Circus Maximus were pretty much as they were shown here, and other little details. I love it when an author does that, and it does show that some research went into the story. But then modern attitudes and unrealistic plot devices ruin it. I read historical novels for escapist entertainment and to be transported to another place and time; yes, I know that most men and nearly all women were downtrodden and led miserable lives, but I don't need it preached at me from nearly every other page.
While this novel is an improvement over Michelle Moran's previous novels in that she does try to incorporate some factual elements, the use of a very unnecessary character is so badly handled that it ruined the story for me.
There are several good points in here -- there is a listing of the various characters, a glossary of Roman terms, and a map of the Roman world.
In short, for those who want some very satisfying fiction about Imperial Rome, stay with the novels of Colleen McCullough and Robert Harris, they're better written and more interesting. While this one lacks the sensationalism of an similar novel titled Cleopatra's Daughter as well, it just isn't a very good story -- but that seventy's potboiler at least had a plot that believable and a heroine that made sense.
Two stars and not recommended.