This month’s pick for my personal book club outside of the library wasCleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran. In this book club we take turns selecting the month’s read and hosting at our homes. The feel of this book club is much different than the ones I run at the library, since it’s more democratic in selection of materials, and we get to eat and drink great food!
It was my turn to pick this month, and I was really looking forward to sharing Michelle Moran with my friends. The first book I read by Moran was The Heretic’s Queen, which was about Nefertari, the niece of the reviled former queen Nefertiti. I had not done much reading about ancient Egypt since sixth grade, and immediately fell in love with the time period once again.
Cleopatra’s Daughter is about, well, Cleopatra’s daughter with Marc Antony, Selene Kleopatra. The novel opens right as Octavian’s forces are storming through Alexandria, and Egypt is to be lost to Rome. Antony, thinking his wife has committed suicide, kills himself rather than be captured and killed by his former friend Octavian. The Antony children wait helplessly with their mother as word of defeat spreads and the Romans take over the city. Cleopatra will famously kill herself with the help of a snake, and the children are orphaned.
Most of the story takes place in Rome, a city very much like a city in our own time. The city’s rulers are struggling to keep order, reduce crime, entertain the masses, and maintain justice. Fortunately for us, our methods of doing all of these things have become more civilized. Selene and her twin brother are kept and raised by Antony’s former wife Octavia, sister to Octavian, a kind and sympathetic mother figure.
The story is chock full of real historical figures: Marcus Agrippa, Juba, Julia, daughter of Octavian, Livia, wife to Octavia, Tiberius, the future emperor, and many more. Moran took from contemporary times trials and incidents to highlight what a dangerous and unsafe time period it was. More than 50,000 slaves lived in the city and each time an area was conquered, more slaves were brought in. The Romans were a brutal people.
One of the things I love so much about Moran is her ability to put you in whatever time period she is writing about. You can smell the food in the marketplace, hear the cries of the gladiators in the Circus, and be in the crowd as the sentence is passed for a trial. With The Heretic Queen, I put visiting Egypt on my bucket list; now with Cleopatra’s Daughter, Rome is on my list as well.
Rating: 4 stars.