The love story of Marc Antony and Cleopatra is legendary. The question asked less often is what happened to their children after they killed themselves? Michelle Moran tackles this question by exploring the lives of the three children who were taken by Octavian and the rest of the Romans through the eyes of the one of the twins, and the only girl, Kleopatra Selene. Practically stranded in a totally new world, twelve-year-old Selene and her brother Alexander must learn how to live in ancient Rome while watching every step, perpetually in danger of losing their lives.
I don’t know how high my expectations for Michelle Moran are going to have to be set for her to fail to match and surpass them, but she has done so in this book. Cleopatra’s Daughter is a great read and proves that the author can portray Rome with just as much skill as she has applied to Egypt. The novel starts out in Egypt with a bang as Octavian and his warriors invade, causing Cleopatra and Antony to kill themselves in desperation. Selene, Alexander, and Ptolemy are whisked away on a boat, on which Ptolemy dies. Selene already knew her life was never going to be the same, and the loss of not only her parents but her baby brother causes her to both fear and gather her strength. She vows that she and her brother will regain Egypt.
In Rome, the already great characters of Selene and Alexander are matched with teenage Roman children as their friends. These kids are nice, well-rounded secondary characters, especially Selene’s friend Julia, who has plenty of her own problems to deal with. Moreover, they are figures from history, and reading about them as they might have been as children is exciting.
The twins interact with the highest levels of Roman society, but Selene in particular still feels like a young teenager, albeit an intelligent one. She experiences her first crush and develops her interest in architecture, while coping with Octavian’s horrible wife Livia, who is determined to thwart her and humiliate her at every turn. It’s easy to relate to Selene in the midst of a great deal of foreignness and danger, which is why this book also works as a fantasy YA novel. Plus, I adored the way the love story angle wound up. I knew it was one based on the dedication, but it took a good long time for me to figure out who Selene loved exactly. When the pieces fell into place, I realized I had seen it all along without really thinking about it.
These are not only dangerous times for Selene and Alexander but for Rome as well, which experiences the beginnings of a slave rebellion, and a mystery as to who the ringleader is. No one is safe from suspicion. This mystery definitely powers the plot along since Selene herself doesn’t have all that much to do. Luckily, her voice is strong enough that she is still an ideal choice for narrator; she has inside information and she is by far the most interesting character.
I’m happy to be able to say that I definitely recommend Cleopatra’s Daughter. This is a very solid historical fiction novel with enchanting characters, a richly described setting, and an enthralling plot.