Title: Cleopatra’s Daughter
Author: Michelle Moran
Year of Publication: 2010
Length: 464 page
Genre: historical fiction
New or Re-Read?: New!
Rating: 4.5 for personal enjoyment, 3.5 for technical merit, averaging out to a 4.
Really lovely — my only real complaint is that it ended too soon! I wanted to read more of Selene’s life as an adult, but that’s largely because I find this whole era so fascinating. I love the collapse of the Roman Republic and the start of the Empire. This book fits in nicely between Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series and I, Claudius, in a way — not that there’s strict continuity between them all, and Cleopatra’s Daughter is definitely lighter fair than McCullough or Graves, but this fits into the gap of years between the two and looks at some characters who get skipped over or glossed in other works.
All of the characters are quite well-drawn. Selene’s reaction to the different expectations of a woman in Rome as opposed to her mother’s Egypt is a great way of getting to her personality — and I love that she finds a way out of the bind. She feels very authentic in her reactions, caught in such a tangle, occasionally taking rebellious risks, but generally finding it easier to acquiesce — and then feeling guilt over her capitulation. Her relationship with Julia is one of the best and most fascinating in the book. They could so easily become bitter rivals, especially over Marcellus, but instead they develop a much more complex dynamic. Julia is spoiled but charming, a little oblivious to Selene’s feelings at times but still a compassionate friend when Selene does need her. It’s also nice how their relationship is sort of the bright mirror to the vicious rivalry between Octavia and Livia — both of whom are intriguing characters in their own right. I’ve always wondered how Octavia must have felt, tasked with caring for her husband’s children by the woman he left her for, and Cleopatra’s Daughter answers that question admirably. My only complaint, again, is that I wanted more — Moran gives you such a strong sense of this deliciously bitter rivalry, but I kept wanting to see more of it, learn more about it, see where it would go. As for Octavian, the man who will be Augustus Caesar, he’s every bit the cold, ruthless pragmatist, sweeping inconvenience out of his path to glory — even when those inconveniences are people, children, relatives… no mercy, no regrets.
There are a few historical glitches, but overall, the picture that Moran paints of late-Republic/early-Imperial Rome is rich, detailed, and a wonderful immersion. The political history is thorough without being overwhelming, and the plot clips along at a decent pace, not dragging. As I said, I would’ve liked a little bit more scope, to see a bit more of Selene’s life — the book ends rather abruptly, tying everything up in one great sweep, and then leaving it to an afterword to tell us what happens to all of the historical figures in the rest of their lives. Admittedly, a lot of that is ground that has been covered elsewhere — not that that necessarily stops authors of historical fiction — but I would’ve enjoyed seeing a more complete view of these characters. As it is, the book drops off when most of them are about fifteen years old — so I did feel a bit cheated at the end.
Overall, though, I can recommend this book as thoroughly enjoyable light historical fiction. This is one where I think my personal enjoyment outstripped the technical merit (thus the split rating) — but I think it’s perfectly possible to subjectively enjoy something beyond what it’s “worth” objectively. It’s definitely a quick read, not as dense as Masters of Rome, but I don’t think less of it for that. Not every book needs to be epic or panoptic (much though I do love books of that type). Cleopatra’s Daughter might be a good introduction to this era of historical fiction for someone not quiet yet ready to leap into heavier works, and it’s also a good bit of brain candy for readers who are already familiar with Roman history and culture, and who enjoy the interpretations thereof in fiction.