Author: Stephanie Dray
Genre: Fiction (Historical / Ancient Rome / Ancient North Africa / Magic / Royalty)
Publisher/Publication Date: Berkley Trade (10/4/2011)
Source: The author.
Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: Yes, although I drew it out because I was reluctant to leave Selene!
One-sentence summary: Cleopatra's daughter has become Queen of Mauritania faces tension in her marriage, her new home, and her family as she struggles to embrace her power and destiny.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's super striking and captures the feel of the novel. My only quibble is that I wish the woman was a little younger -- Selene is 14-20ish in this novel and the woman on the cover clearly isn't. (I suppose she's on the 20ish spectrum.)
I'm reminded of...: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Clysta Kinstler, Libba Bray, Phillipa Gregory
First line: I am nature.
Do... I love Dray's mix of historical fiction and magical fantasy?: YES. I'm shocked some readers have reacted so negatively as I think the mix of genres is a fantastic fit, and Dray handles it in a way that feels authentic and natural to the story and characters.
Do... I love Dray's blog? :YES. If you're interested in the writing process, start reading now, because Dray is open and honest about her experiences in researching her novels, writing them, and adventures in authordom.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow after you read the first book!
Why did I get this book?: I read the first book and loved it.
Review: Earlier this year I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Lily of the Nile and I've been wiggling with anticipation for this book. I'm thrilled to say that everything I loved in the first book -- Selene, the historical setting, the magical elements, the compelling detail -- is in this one as well, only amped up more.
This is a darker novel that doesn't shy away from the grim reality of ancient Roman life (around 25BC-ish or so). Selene, Cleopatra's daughter, has been married and sent to Mauritania, but from the start of this book, our heroine isn't a passive pawn. As with the first novel, Dray mixes history with magic, but the fantastical elements don't dampen or soften the historical aspects, which I so appreciate. Dray doesn't age up Selene, for example, who is 14 at the start of this novel, nor does she whitewash what imperial life was like.
As with the first novel, this book features a teenaged heroine but isn't a YA story; it is decidedly mature and probably not something all readers will like. I hesitate to say I enjoyed it, because some of what transpired made me feel ill, but Dray makes all the characters quite human and quite real, to the point that I loved, hated, empathized with and dismissed everyone at some point, even Selene. It's a maddening, wonderful feeling, and for me, it felt like an accurate representation of what life would have been like for Cleopatra's daughter. You want royal intrigue, this is your book!
I was sad when the book ended -- I could have used another 300 pages -- and I'm not sure if there's another book coming or not, but I'm desperate for more of Selene and her world. I loved Mists of Avalon but found rest of Bradley's series to be very thin. In this case, Dray's books get better and better; her world-building and character-development is nuanced and compelling. This is tawdry hist fic with a little more steel in the spine, and I mean that in the best way. Get Lily of the Nile first then grab this one!