Author: Stephanie Dray
Genre: Fiction (Historical - Ancient Egypt/Rome - Magical Historical)
Publisher/Publication Date: Berkley (1/4/2011)
Source: Won from the author
Rating: Liked so very, very much. I'm desperate for the sequel.
Did I finish?: Oh yes -- inhaled this book.
One-sentence summary: The trials, tortures, and triumphs of Selene, daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: Yes -- super pretty -- although I would have rather it be set in Rome since most of the book takes place there.
I'm reminded of...: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Clysta Kinstler, Libba Bray
First line: They came from Memphis, Thebes, and Heliopolis to see the Savior born.
Do... I think book groups and those who like gripping vacation reads will enjoy this book?: YES. There's enough meat (history, politics, religion, treatment of women/prisoners) to allow a book group some great conversation, and the pacing and story are brisk enough for an engrossing weekend read.
Did... I get the shivers from some the horrors enacted by the emperor?: YES. While not graphic, the author nails the right amount of detail to convey the excesses and violence of the era.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow for sure, buy if you can (Book Depository has it for about $9!)
Why did I get this book?: I was so excited to read this book since it first came out in January. The author had done a number of guest posts at many blogs I read, and I just loved her take on history and her view of women, goddess worship, and Cleopatra.
Review: I'm a Cleopatra fangirl, one hundred percent, which extends to her daughter. I love historical fiction and I adore magical themes -- especially goddess worship with some actual historical accuracy -- so I couldn't pass this book up.
And you know what? It was. So. Good.
I love stories that take place after The End; I love wondering how people pick up the pieces and move on. Stephanie Dray envisioned how Cleopatra's children (particularly her twins, Selene and Helios) suffered the loss of their parents and their country, and how they were treated by Rome. Selene and her surviving siblings are kept in the emperor's household, treated as 'family', and yet, kept acutely aware of their status as prisoners of war.
I felt like I was holding my breath through much of it, eager to find out how things would shake out, racing to the end because I had to know. I'm totally unfamiliar with Roman history but Dray's writing makes it easy to keep the characters in mind and understand the political machinations as well as the interpersonal dramas. This novel is hardly graphic or overly violent, and yet the story made me shiver with horrified anticipation over what would happen next. Even though Selene, the heroine, is hardly a teenager -- just 14 at the end -- this isn't a young adult novel or a watered down historical romance. Her plight -- and her voice -- grabbed me, and I was immediately taken with her (although to be honest I liked the secondary characters as much as the main ones!). The magical elements felt real and authentic and added a layer of tension to the story that I greatly enjoyed.
I am wiggling with excitement for the second book in the series, Song of the Nile, which comes out this fall (not soon enough, I say!) and contemplating a reread of this one already.