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Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter
Review by Kris Waldherr
The saga of Cleopatra is one of history’s most buzzed about stories. After all, the Egyptian queen had it all: love, sex, power, and a death as memorable as her hyperbolic life. But what happened after her date with an asp—and to the sole daughter she left behind?
Cleopatra’s Daughter begins just before Cleopatra and Mark Antony lose their lives and empire to their rival Octavian Caesar. The lovers’ resultant suicides orphan their three children—Ptolemy, Alexander, and Selene—leaving them at the mercy of Octavian. Much to their surprise, the conqueror decides the children are worth more alive than dead. He transports them from Alexandria to Rome, where he raises them as part of his inner circle.
The main action of Cleopatra’s Daughter takes place in Rome and is narrated in first person by Selene, who is twelve when her mother dies and fifteen (the equivalent of Roman adulthood) at the novel’s end. As an exiled princess of Egypt trapped in Octavian’s court, Selene is warned that she can do little except hope for the emperor’s good will. Despite this, Selene finds ways to develop her artistic talents, eventually transforming her destiny. The stories of the women who surround Selene in Rome are equally fascinating and reveal the harsh details which informed their everyday existence.
If the life of Cleopatra is comparable to a dramatic opera, complete with bellowing chorus, extreme scenery changes, and epic love duets, the life of her daughter is more akin to chamber music—equally riveting, but in a more subtle way. Cleopatra’s Daughter is an elegantly written novel that sweeps us behind the scenes into the political and interpersonal machinations of ancient Rome: the struggle between slave and master, between men and women. Moran’s stunningly evocative descriptions bring a long-lost world to life—along with a once-lost story of Egypt’s final princess.
Kris Waldherr is the author of Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends, From Cleopatra to Princess Di. Learn more at KrisWaldherr.com.