Monday, December 23, 2013

369 (2013 #53). Cleopatra's Daughter

by Michelle Moran

This is another historical fiction about the life of Cleopatra's and Marc Antony's daughter Cleopatra Selene II, the only one of their four children who apparently survived to adulthood.  As mentioned in my review of another such novel, Cleopatra's Moon, Cleopatra Selene is a perfect subject, since so little is known about her real life, and it is easy to build a novel around those facts.

This book begins a little later than Cleopatra's Moon, on August 12, 30 BCE, in Alexandria, Egypt, with the defeat of Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony by Octavian.  There is very little about Alexandria and Egypt in this book as compared to Cleopatra's Moon.  The book ends in 25 BCE, the year Cleopatra Selene married Juba.

Author Michelle Moran visited many sites in Rome that appear in the book, including the recently-restored villa of Octavian (Augustus Caesar), where Cleopatra Selene likely spent much time growing up.  Her descriptions of these places and of life in ancient Rome are the best part of the book.

The book focuses on what it was like for Cleopatra Selene and her twin brother, Alexander Helios, to grow up in the homes of Octavian and his sister Octavia (Marc Antony's rejected previous wife), mostly treated equally with the other children in the household.  However, they were always in fear that their lives could be ended at any time, either through execution or slavery.

A subplot involving an unknown abolitionist called the "Red Eagle" was just silly.  I think this was a plot device to justify the (otherwise mostly negative) behavior of Juba, Cleopatra Selene's eventual husband, and make her acceptance of the match more palatable.   It's highly unlikely that either of them, or any upper-class Roman for that matter, would have led a slave revolt, much less have abolitionist leanings. 

It also was not very realistic to have Cleopatra Selene more or less apprenticing under well-known Roman architect Vitruvius.  Roman women of that era had no careers other than being wives and mothers.  They didn't even merit having unique names in that time period.  I think that this was also a device used by Moran to incorporate her interest in and research on Roman architecture.

I did appreciate the inclusion of a timeline, maps of the Roman Empire and Rome during Augustus' reign, a list of characters, an afterword explaining what happened to the real ones, a "historical note" that explains some of the changes in reality that Moran made in her story, and a glossary of unfamiliar Greek and Latin terms.

In an interview, Moran stated that, "I like to begin my novels during the time of greatest transition in a person’s life. And in the ancient world, the greatest transition in a woman’s life was often the time when she was married. Because women married at much younger ages two thousand years ago (twelve years old was not uncommon), my narrators have all been very young girls. In fact, [publisher] Random House will be making a concerted effort to market Cleopatra's Daughter to young adults as well as adults."

Because of some of the things that happen in the book and some of the issues it raises (about slavery and abandoned children, for example), I think the book would not be appropriate for many ten-to-twelve-year-olds, even though Cleopatra Selene is ten when the book starts.  Although she is 15 when the book ends, I think that's a better age for the youngest readers of this book.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This book was borrowed and returned via interlibrary loan.]

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