Iset's Reviews > Cleopatra's Daughter

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran
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Feb 24, 11

bookshelves: hellenistic-age-400-to-30bce-fictio, imperial-age-30bce-to-500ce-fiction, all-starting-to-look-the-same, wall-bangers, young-adult
Recommended to Iset by: No one
Recommended for: Early Teens Aged 10 - 15
Read on November 01, 2010 — I own a copy, read count: 1

In terms of the recommendation to those who love historical fiction and ancient Egypt, as a voracious reader and someone so interested in history that I've made a career out of it, I've got to say that my response was more of a mixed bag to this book.

There were good and bad things to say about this book. I didn't like the blatant name-dropping, especially as it served little to no purpose and seemed to be added in purely for the "Ooooh, look, there's Ovid! And this is Vercingetorix's daughter!!!" factor. It just seemed unnecessary to drop names when the main characters and plot ought to be able to carry a novel. There were also some implausible moments, such as Octavian taking the children with him out and about in Alexandria, or Octavia befriending them instantly (having the children by another woman of the husband who abandoned you dropped into your care? You'd at least think it'd take a while to bond). Also the twins seem to fit into their new lives and companions in Rome rather quickly, which surprised me given the traumatising experiences they'd been through. It just takes away from a sense that these are real people reacting as real people would. Well-drawn characters react to events around them in a way that makes sense given their personality and experiences, and it shows refinement from an author if they can create characters who seem to react and grow almost naturally.

There's a lot of exposition throughout the book. It's all too obvious that it's exposition for the benefit of the reader, and unfortunately it hasn't been done subtly. The information conveyed consists of all the most iconic trivia about the Romans that has filtered into the public consciousness, and the way it's presented is rather clunky and simplistic in a "oh and by the way did you know..." kind of way, such as Octavian saying "And remember, a third of Rome's population is enslaved". It's not woven into the plot very often, it tends to take the form of one character verbally explaining things to another character. The plot twists can be seen a mile off, and by page 80 I had guessed who the Red Eagle would be and who Kleopatra Selene would end up with (I'm avoiding saying who so as not to give spoilers, but it's become a real trend in historical fiction recently). The inclusion of the fictional Red Eagle plot surprised me because it's such a well worn storyline in so many books before, the classic "masked fighter of injustice in the big city" trope, and I wondered if Moran felt like she had to include it out of fear that readers would think the unembellished true story was too "boring" or "dull".

In addition, the scope of the story felt very insular and small scale, and not just because Kleopatra Selene is the first person narrator. The sense of epic scale is missing from this book, which feels strange given that the events and characters were so important historically. Many scenes are blinkered and narrow in scope, and I felt that there were some missed opportunities to convey a grander scale of events - for example, Octavian's first triumph is covered in only two pages and most of that consists of Kleopatra Selene's internal thoughts with a few titbits of description thrown in, and I was a bit disappointed that it didn't really evoke the magnitude of the occasion. I was pleasantly surprised by the author's note at the back of the book, and really appreciated Moran having a frank discussion about some of the changes she made to the history. However, I was also disappointed that there were so very many inaccuracies which are not mentioned in the author's note. Poor Octavian takes a beating on the historical accuracy front - his description and many of his actions in the novel are in fact made up - and I thought he was too vilified.

On the positive side, the story built up well to the climax, creating tension and probably the most emotion in the entire novel with a certain tragic incident, and then releasing that tension with the double revelation of the Red Eagle's identity and the identity of Kleopatra Selene's intended husband. Though the writing was rather simplistic, it seemed more forgivable if I approached this as a children's book. I actually think it was a good marketing decision to rate this book as for Young Adults/Adults (her previous two novels were defined only for the Adults group) - I think Moran needs to go further and market it completely at the early teens age group. Viewing it from that perspective, the story comes off as an enjoyable teenaged adventure romp. It's not earth-shattering literature, but it seems really well suited to an enthusiastic young historian, or those times when you just want to kick back and read something fun and unchallenging.
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