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Michelle Moran – Cleopatra’s Daughter

September 23, 2009

111. Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran (2009)

Cleopatra’s Daughter was published by Crown Books on 15 September 2009; you can order yourself a copy from Amazon.

Length: 431 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult/Adult Crossover

Started: 09 September 2009
Finished: 11 September 2009

Where did it come from? From the author for review.
Why do I have it? I’d heard lots of good things from fellow book bloggers about Moran’s novels, and while I already have Nefertiti on my TBR pile, Cleopatra’s Daughter fit into my reading life a lot better at the time (more below.)

How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 02 September 2009
Verdict? Keeper.

Won’t someone please think
of the children?!? Cleo had
kids… who would have guessed?

Summary: Everybody knows the story of Marc Antony and Cleopatra and the asp, but how many people have asked about what came next? Cleopatra left behind three children by Antony, the ten-year-old twins Selene and Alexander, and their younger brother Ptolemy. Rather than kill them, Octavian brings them back to Rome, to demonstrate not only his conquest of Egypt, but also his magnanimity in letting them live. The children are the last of a great dynasty of Egyptian rulers, and for that reason are kept under close watch, for there is a danger that they will become a rallying point for the Red Eagle, a mysterious dissident who has been working to abolish slavery by whatever means necessary. Cleopatra’s Daughter is told in Selene’s voice, as she comes of age inside the most powerful family in Rome – never exactly a prisoner, but never entirely free from the swirling currents of loyalty, distrust, and power in Octavian’s Rome.

Review: This book came along at a very serendipitous time in my reading life. I’d read Jo Graham’s Hand of Isis about six months previously, so I was familiar with Cleopatra’s side of the story, and I’d finished watching the HBO series Rome about a week previously, so I was up-to-date with the main players and politics in Rome. Furthermore, Rome ends at more or less the exact point that Cleopatra’s Daughter begins, so I feel like I was prepared as I was ever going to be without having a degree in classical studies or ancient history.

This novel’s main strength comes from how well Moran brings the ancient world – and the people who inhabit it – to life. Rome itself is a vibrant, fully-realized city, and Moran gives us not only the tourist-brochure highlights, but also glimpses of the seamier undersides. Selene and her friends are too wealthy and well-connected to have to deal with much of the squalor of ancient Rome, but Moran does a nice job of balancing the gilt with the grit. The characters get much the same treatment – it’s easy to read historical accounts and forget that these were real people, with real passions and quirks and lives. Moran takes the histories and recreates real people of flesh and blood, people who were so vividly-drawn that they reminded me of people I already know.

The plot moved along nicely, keeping me thoroughly absorbed in the story despite the fact that I already knew the outcome (darn historical accuracy!) The writing at times felt somewhat simple for my tastes, but although it was noticeable, it wasn’t particularly distracting, and so I’m going to chalk it up to Moran wanting Cleopatra’s Daughter to be accessible to a young adult audience as well. I also wasn’t crazy about the romance angle of the story; it worked so well as a straight-up piece of historical fiction that the love story felt a little bit shoehorned in at the end. But, in the final analysis, Cleopatra’s Daughter was an interesting look at what happened in history after the point where most retellings of the time stop, and it kept me absorbed, kept me entertained, and kept me up reading past my bedtime for several nights in a row. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Definitely recommended for fans of historical fiction both young and old, particularly those who like Ancient Rome but who consider Antony & Cleopatra to be the end of the story.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Michelle Moran’s website

Other Reviews: At Home With Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Addiction, The Burton Review, Caribousmom, Creative Madness, Medieval Bookworm, Well-Mannered Frivolity
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: While we waited for the news to arrive, we played dice.

Cover Thoughts: Argh, the half-headed girls! Also, the model seems a little old, given that Selene is in her very early teens for most of the book. Otherwise, though, I really like the way this cover integrates Roman and Egyptian elements and conveys a sense of wealth and power… even without the gold embossing, the saturation of the red makes it look very rich.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 35: “The vessel that was to bear us toward Rome was my mother’s thalamegos, a ship so large that its pillared courtyards had once hosted my father’s mock battles on horseback.” – a river going pomp boat of Ptolemy IV Philopator. The ship had a twin hull like a catamaran, one single mast with a yard and sail on the forecastle and is said to be towed from the banks of the Nile. Columns surrounded the stories like a temple.
  • p. 58: “So while my father had been adorning himself with gold in Alexandria, drinking the best wines from my mother’s silver rhyta, Octavian had been working to improve his city.” – an ancient Greek drinking horn, made of pottery or metal, having a base in the form of the head of a woman or animal.
  • p. 91: ““What else do they believe?” Alexander asked. “That Antony instructed that he be worshipped as Dionysus. That he crowned his head in ivy and carried a thyrsus instead of a sword.”” – a staff tipped with a pine cone and sometimes twined with ivy and vine branches, borne by Dionysus and his votaries.
  • p. 95: “Gallia wanted to know about everything I unpacked. The henna for my hands, the moringa oil for my face, the pumice stone for removing extra hair around my brows.” – A genus of trees of Southern India and Northern Africa. One species is the horse-radish tree, and its seeds are known in commerce as ben nuts, and yield the oil called oil of ben.
  • p. 106: “I recognized the symbol of Isis on his belt at once. To anyone else, the knot would have been unremarkable, but I knew it was a sacred tiet.” – the Knot of Isis, a symbol that resembles an ankh, except the crossing arms curve downward.
  • p. 123: “We reached a wooden door inside the Forum, and Gallia led the four of us into a small chamber. “Is this it?” I asked nervously. Julia sighed. “The ludus.”” – elementary school where almost all children, including girls, attended. There the children learned the alphabet, mathematics & basic writing.
  • p. 129: “I could already smell the strong scent of kyphi, just like in Alexandria.” – a compound incense that was used in ancient Egypt for religious and medical purposes.
  • p. 224: ““You?” he demanded, looking at a second young man in the toga of a judex.” – a Roman civil servant who was appointed investigate the facts in cases brought before a magistrate.
  • p. 299: “In those precious moments, a soldier leapt forward and speared the beast with his metal pilum.” – a javelin used in ancient Rome by legionaries, consisting of a three-foot-long shaft with an iron head of the same length.
  • p. 307: “The Tabularium was a solemn place, with a façade of peperino and travertine blocks masking a stark interior of concrete vaults.” – a brown or grey volcanic tuff, containing fragments of basalt and limestone, with disseminated crystals of augite, mica, magnetite, leucite, and other similar minerals; a form of limestone deposited by springs, esp. hot springs, used in Italy for building.
26 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2009 1:01 am

    I’m glad you liked it; I won it so I expect to see it at my doorstep any day now. I liked the bit in your review about “balancing the gilt with the grit.” Nicely said!

  2. September 23, 2009 8:44 am

    Everyone seems to love Moran’s work, so I’m really looking forward to this. I’m wondering what kind of dice they played back then.

    • September 23, 2009 9:11 am

      bermudaonion – That’s a good question! I’m going to guess Yahtzee. :-D

  3. September 23, 2009 10:37 am

    Oh, I’m excited about this one, glad you liked it.

    • September 25, 2009 9:32 am

      Jen – I haven’t read her other books to compare, but I get the impression that if you liked those, you’ll like this one too. :)

  4. September 23, 2009 10:54 am

    I’m glad you liked this one! I thought it was pretty awesome. Thanks for linking to my review!

    • September 25, 2009 9:33 am

      Heather – No problem! I always like historical fiction that focuses on new people/periods that I didn’t know much about.

  5. September 23, 2009 12:03 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this one too. I think you’re right about her writing to a younger audience, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book at all.

    • September 25, 2009 9:34 am

      Alyce – Did I miss your review? Ack, sorry! I’ll go add it in.

  6. September 23, 2009 2:38 pm

    Gilt and grit. Nice.

    • September 25, 2009 9:35 am

      trapunto – Occasionally the writing gods are on my side. :)

  7. September 23, 2009 7:39 pm

    I have got to get something by Michelle Moran – everyone I know seems to love her books! Thanks for the great review.

    • September 25, 2009 9:36 am

      Elizabeth – I was a little worried that it was going to suffer from over-hype burnout, since seriously, *everyone* loves these books, but happily I enjoyed it anyways!

  8. September 23, 2009 8:34 pm

    I’ll be reading this one very soon. Seems like most people like it, which is great. Thanks for the review.

    • September 25, 2009 9:37 am

      Anna – Hopefully you like it just as much as the rest of us!

  9. September 24, 2009 12:26 am

    I can’t wait for my copy to arrive. I really loved Nefertiti.

  10. September 24, 2009 11:57 am

    I have this sneaking suspicion that I’m the only person left on the planet who hasn’t read Michelle Moran. This one, I turned down because I’m trying to thin the stacks. REGRET. Oh, well. There’s always that cool thing called the library, although ours has just reduced its pitiful hours to even more pitiful. Bwaaaah. That’s me purging my emotional distress. Sorry.

    • September 25, 2009 9:38 am

      Nancy – I was pretty sure I was the last one left who hadn’t read any of her books! Shame about your library… hopefully you’ll be able to squeeze in during the 15 minutes per week they’re open and snag a copy. :-D

  11. September 25, 2009 10:45 pm

    I love Michelle Moran. I got an ARC of her very first book and haven’t looked back! Glad you enjoyed this one. :)

    • September 28, 2009 1:08 pm

      Kailana – I need to go back and read her first two books now, for sure!

  12. September 27, 2009 4:59 pm

    Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt are my favorite when it comes to historical fiction, so of course this one is on my list of books to be read (like, real soon if possible!) I am a little ashamed to admit, I have the two previous novels from Moran and haven’t read them yet… but I will!
    Anyway, great review! I’m glad you mostly enjoyed it! :)

    • September 28, 2009 1:10 pm

      Kay – You should definitely check out Hand of Isis by Jo Graham. I think she’s an excellent author who’s not nearly as well known as she should be, and that book does make an interesting companion to Moran’s work.


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