Vicky Alvear Shecter
Received from publisher for review
Cleopatra VIII Selene, daughter of infamous ruler Cleopatra VII and Marcus Antonius, lives a life of privilege in her Egyptian home with her twin brother Alexandros and her younger brother Ptolemy (Ptolly). Things begin to change however when her father finally goes through with the divorce of his Roman wife to be with Cleopatra VII and his family in Egypt.
Octavianus, nephew of Julius Caesar and brother to Marcus's displaced wife in Rome, declares war on Cleopatra VII the minute the divorce is finalized. Eventually, when both Cleopatra VII and Marcus meet their tragic ends, Cleopatra Selene and her brother are shipped off to Rome to live with the enemy.
Sequestered in Octavianus's home, Cleopatra Selene finds herself the only one determined to get back to Egypt and claim her rightful place on the throne though she knows it will be nearly impossible to do so. While Alexandros and Ptolly begin to make a home in Rome, Cleopatra Selene constantly plots and plans, but when death finds it's way into her family again and again she begins to wonder if Egypt is her destiny after all.
Cleopatra's Moon is a fascinating trip back in time to ancient Egypt and Rome, delighting our imaginations as fiction and historical fact blend beautifully to present a tale of a young girl with a famous name but hardly a famous story. Though we know certain elements are exaggerated or invented for the sake of the narrative flow, understanding that these people lived and endured tragedy after tragedy when all-conquering Rome absorbed Egypt into its ever-expanding empire keeps us turning the pages to learn more as legendary events unfold before us. Reading of the destruction of the House of Ptolemy through the eyes of Cleopatra's daughter makes the past leapfrog through time to come to vibrant life in the present–the pain so very real, the politicians so very devious, and the betrayal so very heartbreaking.
We meet Cleopatra Selene at the youthful age of seven, follow her through her mother's death at age eleven and then finally accompany her through her time in Rome where she stays until age sixteen. We can easily relate to her desire to be the type of woman her mother was, but we realize long before she does that she is merely going through the motions, trying to live up to a revered icon and symbol of Egypt's strength instead of actually living herself. She walks in the intimidating shadow of her mother long after her death, and we can't help but sigh in both sympathy and exasperation as she weighs every decision and every action against the thoughts and actions of her remarkable mother. Eventually though, as she spends more time alone in the house of her enemy, we finally begin to see her take a few hesitant steps into the light of independence, shaking off some of the weight of her mother's memory and beginning to think in terms of how she herself is going to deal with her situation instead of how Cleopatra would.
Cleopatra Selene, her twin Alexandros, and her youngest brother Ptolly are all a pleasure to read about, the overwhelming nature of the pressure on them to survive in the house of the man who robbed them of their parents, their home, and their crown weighing on us as much as them, making us wish history could magically be rewritten in a way where the fates aren't quite as cruel to their family. Included in the back of the book are several facts about all of the players in this story, details that fill us on on their lives after our brief sojourn with them ends, causing us to be all the more interested in learning as much as we can about their unfathomable existence.
Cleopatra's Moon does start out a bit slow, the build up to the epic demise of Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra VII a bit tedious at times as it's almost 100 pages in the making. Additionally, though we are introduced to Cleopatra Selene when she's seven and continue with her to sixteen, the tone of her voice never really changes to reflect her aging, so we start out reading about a very mature young girl and then continue on reading about the exact same young woman. Despite those minor flaws, Cleopatra's Moon is an enjoyable read, one that keeps us thinking, wondering, and craving more time in Egypt with perhaps the most memorable of its royal families.