Customer Reviews: Cleopatra's Heir
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on May 24, 2002
Gillian Bradshaw is one of the few authors whose works I'll purchase, sight unseen, in hardcover. This book does not disappoint-- returning to the world of Classical Antiquity after last year's detour to 11th-century Brittany (The Wolf Hunt), Bradshaw delivers another compelling novel filled with vivid historical detail, beautiful writing, and sympathetic characters.
The "editorial reviews" on this site give a neat encapsulation of this book's premise: what if Caesarion, son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, had managed to escape the Roman assassination attempt that apparently claimed the life of the historical Caesarion?
The book opens with a wounded Caesarion waking from a coma after his camp is attacked by a Roman century. He's on a funeral pyre, surrounded by his dead bodyguards... and I was hooked.
What followed was a wonderful adventure of how a spoiled but unloved youth, despised his entire life for his epilepsy, loses everything-- but finds love, respect, and purpose among the lower-class Egyptians who rescue him and offer him a new life. Of course, his past is bound to catch up with him, sooner or later...
Loved the characters-- Ani, the linen producer determined to make it as a merchant; his daughter Melanthe; and, of course, Caesarion. And I aalso enjoyed the depiction of late-Hellenistic Egyptian society, where the conquering Greeks have long formed the elite classes, and where the native Egyptians are discriminated against on almost every level.
If you're looking for a great read set in an interesting historical period, check out Cleopatra's Heir.
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on February 23, 2004
It is a rare novel that by midpoint you can pause and realise not much has actually happened but you've been thoroughly entertained. A case of exploration of the human condition taking precedence over plot. In an historical novel, it is even rarer, nevertheless Gillian Bradshaw has achieved this in a remarkable fashion. Admittedly it is the first of her novels I have read, but it will be by no means the last.
Cleopatra's Heir provides an alternative history to the fate of Julius Caesar's and Cleopatra' son, Caesarion, of whom historical scholars confidently have us know that he was executed c.30B.C after the fall of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. In this version, we find the epileptic eighteen year old waking up on top of his own funeral pyre, rolling off with a stab wound to his side and lurching off into the distance whilst Rome celebrated his demise.
What follows is the gradual transition of a boy raised, as Bradshaw so eloquently puts it, to be a King of all, yet totally obedient to a man in control of what little destiny he retains. His emotional strength in the face of such social suffering means we have a story where one class of man is forced to experience another and, in doing so, becomes a rather better person for it. The story itself is simply told: found by an Egyptian trader named Ani, the newly named Arion is forced to accept the merchant's kindness as he is nursed back to health on Ani's journey to Berenike. Whilst there an attempt to depart to locate his ship leads to another of the frequent seizures and the forming of his identity to all as Arion, ex-Friend of Caesarion, gentleman and secretary to Ani.
All the time fuming at his newly perceived lowly station the two form an inseparable bond, further added to by Arion's gradual burgeoning love for Ani's sixteen year old daughter, Melanthe.
A journey to Alexandria, for the still unnamed once king-elect to see if his mother is still alive, for Ani's family to secure his new partnership with the Greek Kleon, brings trouble of an imperial and personal nature as Arion's seizures lead to his capture by Octavian and Ani's trading dispute with the bitter Lord Aristodemos (who's patronage with Kleon has been usurped) leads to the kidnap of Melanthe.
Amongst it all the kingly attitude of Arion takes shape and transforms from arrogance to kindly benefactor as he comes to terms with his fate, finds and forgives, Rhodon, his betrayer, and seeks clemency for all who have helped him when faced with his second cousin and Marcus Agrippa. The end is a safe one and one the reader must demand such is the development of our respect for Arion.
Gillian Bradshaw has written a powerfully emotive novel of a fall from grace but the saving of a person. Through it a message of kindly living and aid to other shines brightly and a sense of achievement is portrayed. A young man struggling to overcome both social and physical problems is epitomised in a fluid writing style and creates a real sense of belonging to the characterisation in a manner that many historical novels lack. Bradshaw is one author that, for this reader at least, not reading any novel she produces wouldn't be given a second thought.
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on June 3, 2003
A very basic coming-of-age novel that takes no risks but also makes no big mistakes, Cleopatra's Heir tells the story of how Cleopatra's son Caesarion must reinvent his life once he is no longer heir.
Sentence-level writing here seemed simplistic, and the author used an annoying device of having characters tell stories familiar to the reader over and over -- we already know what happened to the party on their way down the river, so why repeat the whole thing in dialogue?
The characters work well overall, and the portrayal of Caesarion's epilepsy is perhaps the best point of the book, though I wanted a bit more resolution with the theme of his mother as a dark, even tyrannical figure.
The early-Roman Empire historical setting, like most of Bradshaw's settings, seems believable (at least to a non-specialist) but doesn't have the depth of really top-class historical fiction.
Overall, an enjoyable book, but I'm tempted to call it an enjoyable "little" book. It might be well suited to a young adult audience because of the theme, the straightforward plot and the uncomplicated language.
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on July 17, 2002
So much, yet so little, is known of Cleopatra's reign and what is documented could very well be mostly propaganda from the Roman point of view. Even less is known about the son she and Julius Caesar brought into the world. This book, although a work of historical fiction, explores the possibility that their son escaped execution and the life and choices he made or might have made as the result of his new found freedom, the education and values instilled in him from birth, his need to return to his home and the possible ramifications and repercussions of that need. This is a page turner for anyone who loves being transported to a time and place that only lives in our imaginations. It has a wonderful sort of "What If" feel about it. I loved it and highly recommend it.
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on February 17, 2014
Amazing book! The setting brings history from the page onto a stage in my mind. The plot moves quickly as I am caught up in the lives of the characters I grow to love, hate, laugh at, laugh with, and strive with -- right along side them. Sometimes I find myself reading until 4:00 AM, unable to tear myself away from the action, the intrigue, and the romance. Yes, I do know what happened to Cleopatra's heir in real life, but this... this is the story of the journey he took to reach that destination. In a nutshell, this book proves the old cliche of "The journey is better than the arrival."

Added note: I can't wait to read more books by this author!
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on June 6, 2002
Bradshaw is one of my favorite historical novelists, but I love some of her books better than others, and this is one of my favorites. It's very difficult to describe its charm, or how very good Ms Bradshaw's writing and characterization is. And since the synopsis and previous review describes the plot better than I could do, I won't try and this will end up being a very short review, sorry.
But if you like Bradshaw's novels, this is one of her best so far, get it as soon as possible. If you are looking for a fascinating rich portrayal of Hellenistic Egypt, this is the best I have found.
The only depressing thing is that lately I have managed to read a lot of Bradshaw's novels and now I got no more of her novels to look for soon.
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on March 4, 2006
I have read several books by Gillian Bradshaw and have thoroughly enjoyed every one. This was no exception. It's the fictional story of Caesarion, the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, who escapes an attack on his life by the Romans and falls in with an Egyptian trader who takes care of him. The Romans believe that he died as he suffered an epileptic fit when they attacked him and passed out; they place him on the funeral pyre, from which he escapes, but the Romans burn it not knowing his body is not on there.

The story follows Caesarion's travels with his rescuer, Ani, and his gradual learning to accept Ani's friendship and to learn to trust him. Caesarion is travelling incognito and intends to go to Alexandria to try to find his mother, Cleopatra, and his half brothers and sisters. Ani has troubles with a competitor and Caesarion helps to extricate him from these, thus earning his way and repaying the debt for his life. There is a very gentle love story with Ani's daughter Melanthe, and the story builds to the climax when Caesarion is recognised in Alexandria and is brought before Octavian, the new Emperor and his second cousin.

This is an interesting portrayal of a King who is a God and finds himself working by writing letters for a minor Egyptian linen merchant. Initially we don't like Caesarion - he is untrusting, haughty and unfriendly - but as the story progresses he becomes more human. The descriptions of his problems with epilepsy are well-written and add much to the story.

As with Gillian Bradshaw's other books, this is a light read although some of the subject matter is serious, and the descriptions of the places and history are fascinating. I very much recommend it.
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on June 8, 2005
If you are really into history and love historical novels then Cleopatra's Heir is highly recommended reading. The book is about the oldest son of Cleopatra and what might have happened to him if he had survived Octavius's take over of Egypt. Its well written well researched book. I also liked how the author built up Caesar's character to make him look realistic and human. He was raised to believe that the world should bow down to him than he is reduced to nothing and is treated as such. He reacts to this with all the arrogance of royalty until he learns to trust people and begins to relate to them. He really evolves throughout the book from a spoiled king to a more compassionate human being. In the end he proves to have more humanity than either of his parents and develops his own conscience. Its a good coming of age story and historical fiction novel.
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on June 12, 2007
This is a very captivating book, like all other books written by gillian bradshaw. Bradshaw made the characters seem like real people. I enjoyed this book very much and hope bradshaw will write more books like this.
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on January 28, 2014
I am a Bradshaw fan but found this one slightly disappointing. The central figure was not altogether convincing and the ending rather too neat.
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