Friday, December 06, 2013

366 (2013 #50). Cleopatra's Moon

written by Vicky Alvear Shecter,
read by Kirsten Potter

Cleopatra's Moon is a well-written young adult novel (that will also appeal to adults who like historical fiction) about the only daughter of the famous queen Cleopatra and Marcus Antonius, Cleopatra Selene II.  In ancient Greek, Selene means "moon," hence the title of the book.

The novel begins with the 16-year-old title character, despondent, on a Roman ship heading to Africa in 25 BCE.  Then we flash back nine years, to Egypt in 34 BCE, when Marcus Antonius announces the Donations of Alexandria that probably led to his (and queen Cleopatra's) downfall. 

I loved the descriptive passages of life in beautiful, civilized Alexandria, Egypt, during this time (34-30 BCE).  The contrast is marked with dirty, ugly, barbaric Rome, where Cleopatra Selene and her brothers, twin Alexandros Helios (helios means "sun") and younger sibling Ptolemy Philadelphus, are taken by Octavianus (Caesar Augustus) to live in his household.  They are raised by Octavianus' haughty wife Livia and his sister Octavia - whom Marcus Antonius divorced to marry Cleopatra - along with the various children of these people, most notably Octavianus' daughter Julia (by a previous marriage), Octavia's son Marcellus (by a previous marriage), at that time presumed Octavianus' heir, and Juba, the son of a conquered Numidian king, brought to Rome as an infant.

As the cover illustration implies, this novel is aimed at young adults, so of course there is romance - and a triangle.  The beauty is, so little is known about the real Cleopatra Selene, that what author Vicky Alvear Shecter has written is plausible.  It's also refreshing to read a viewpoint of this era that is non-Roman - history from the loser's perspective, so to speak.  The author adds to the appeal for young adults by including lots of Egyptian mythology.  The book also raises some relevant questions (especially for the young) about fate versus free will, acceptance versus acquiescence, and the power to choose.

Shecter had previously written two nonfiction biographies for middle-graders, Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen, and Alexander the Great Rocks the World, as well as the nonfiction Anubis Speaks!: A Guide to the Afterlife by the Egyptian God of the Dead.   I'll be reading all of these soon, as well as her upcoming Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii. Shecter is also a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta, and writes a blog on ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece called "History with a Twist." She knows her stuff.

Although there are some minor anachronisms in the dialogue, they did not bother me, and likely make the book more readable for its intended audience.  The only problem I had was with the reference to a father as a "tata" (pronounced tah-tah).  While the word does mean father or daddy in Latin (and other languages), I think I would have chosen something else, especially for the audiobook.  I can imagine a lot of adolescent males sniggering each time the word is mentioned, with its slang meaning in English.  That, and some references to nudity and sex, probably make this book more appropriate for a slightly older audience, perhaps high school and up, although younger but more mature girls will likely enjoy this novel.

On the audiobook, actress Kirsten Potter turns in a great performance as narrator Cleopatra Selene.  The audiobook also includes some wonderful musical interludes between chapters, incorporating drums, finger cymbals, and a gong. I really appreciated the inclusion of an author interview on the final disc, and the PDF that includes a helpful list of characters (identifying who is real and who is not), as well as a section on "facts within the fiction."

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

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