“It’s your turn,” Alexander said. When our mother didn’t respond, he repeated, “Mother, it’s your turn.”
But she wasn’t listening. Her face was turned in the direction of the sea, where the lighthouse of our ancestors had been built on the island of Pharos to the east. We were the greatest family in the world, and could trace or lineage all the way back to Alexander of Macedon. If our father’s battle against Octavian went well, the Ptolemies might rule for anotehr three hundred years. But it his losses continued…. – from Cleopatra’s Daughter, page 1 –
Anyone familiar with Egyptian history knows the story of Marc Antony and Cleopatra – their romance and rule, and their tragic fall in 30 BC when Octavian (aided by Marcus Agrippa) defeated Antony at the sea battle of Actium. But few readers are as familiar with the story which followed Antony and Cleopatra’s suicides…that of the life of their twins Alexander and Selene who were only ten years old when they were taken as captives to Rome. Michelle Moran’s latest historical novel, narrated by the young Selene, begins on the fateful day when Octavian marched into Alexandria and claimed it as his own. Beautiful Selene must brave an ocean crossing to Rome and readjust to a life in the home of Octavia – sister to Emperor Octavian who at one time was the wife of Selene’s father Marc Antony until he abandoned her to marry Cleopatra. Quickly, Moran sets the stage – introducing such historical characters as Livia (Ocatavian’s jealous wife), Marcellus (Octavia’s son who is in line to be the next Emperor), Juba (Octavian’s devoted aide), and Tiberius (Livia’s son). Moran’s novel is filled with the extraordinary architecture of Egypt and Rome, and brings to life the excitement and horror of Roman life beneath the rule of Octavian through the eyes of Selene.
Michelle Moran is fast becoming a favorite historical novelist for me. Her ability to breathe life into historical characters and transport the reader to another time is captivating. Moran’s research is impeccable and in Cleopatra’s Daughter, the reader is treated to stunning descriptions of the buildings which were constructed, the details of the clothing of the time, and even the tension of Rome’s corrupt justice system.
We watched the soldiers escort the girl from the platform, and the eyes of the man in fur watched her hotly. She avoided his gaze, looking instead at the weeping woman still standing in the rain. Her mother, I thought sadly. Next to the woman a broad-shouldered centurion placed his hand on his heart in a silent promise. The girl seemed to tremble, then her legs gave way beneath her.
“Tullia!” the man shouted, and I was sure he was her father.
The soldiers lifted her swiftly back onto her feet, and the centurion spun around to the fat man in his furs. “I will kill you!” Her father lunged, but several soldiers moved quickly to stop him.
“Let the judices decide!” Tullia’s lawyer pleaded.
“He’s paid them off!” the father accused. “Even her lawyer knows that heir pockets are filled with this maggot’s gold!” – from Cleopatra’s Daughter, page 335 –
Moran provides an historical time line as well as a list of characters and a detailed map of Rome to help orient her readers. Her website is also a wonderful resource (especially the interactive map). But readers will find that Moran’s prose needs no explanation. Written with authority in clear, uncomplicated language Cleopatra’s Daughter is an imaginative, beautifully constructed work which fully captures the tumultuous rule of Octavian.
Cleopatra’s Daughter is classified as a cross over between adult fiction and young adult fiction. It is certainly a coming of age tale and will appeal to young adults on that level. But it is also an intricately written story of ancient Rome…one that will captivate adult readers as well. As with Michelle Moran’s previous books, Cleopatra’s Daughter is highly recommended for readers who love historical fiction.