"Song of the Nile" by Stephanie Dray

Pros: The relationship between Selene and Augustus is absolutely fascinating to watch unfold.
Cons: Selene’s single-mindedness can be a bit irritating at times.
Rating: 4 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

Having come of age, Cleopatra Selene was to be married to a man of Augustus’ choosing. She is now Queen of Mauretania, and she demands to be more than a figurehead. Working to build her new country into a Roman asset, she finds her relationship with Augustus becoming even more complex. Selene’s goal through all of this never changes: she wants Egypt back, the kingdom of her mother, that should have been hers by right. Yet even with the magic of Isis, it seems that Egypt remains just beyond her grasp. Will the price for her heritage be something that Selene is willing to pay? Or does Isis have another destiny in mind?


 

Lily of the Nile was such a stunning book for me that I’ve been eagerly awaiting Song of the Nile for months! Stephanie Dray has a talent for revealing hidden layers of history that I have never connected, and it leads to some very interesting conflicts. I simply couldn’t get enough of the ever-more complex relationship between Selene and Augustus, all the more because it is based on a lesser-known tidbit about his personality. Yet after reading the story, I couldn’t help wondering why the possibility hadn’t occurred to anyone else. Watching the two of them dancing around each other is akin to watching a fencing match between two well-matched opponents, leaving the reader wondering who will emerge the victor. It’s always fascinating to watch politics, power, and a complex relationship intersect, especially when there is so much at stake.

I have to admit, there were times that I struggled with being frustrated at some of Selene’s responses. A large part of that has to do with the amount of reading that I’ve done myself in the time period, and because I know where history takes her overall it was at times difficult to match the portrait of Selene in my head with the one that I was reading on the page. The more time that I spent thinking about it, however, I realized that that in itself is testament to Ms. Dray’s originality. I found myself having to look past my preconceived ideas of Selene to see if her presentation on the book fit what I knew of both her and her mother. The answer was a resounding yes– even though Selene wasn’t always what I expected, she was still true in her own way to her mother and her mother’s values. I just couldn’t help feeling sorry for several of the secondary characters because of how Selene treats them in her single-minded determination. With that being said, I certainly look forward to seeing how those relationships change and develop in the next book.

Selene has also inherited her mother’s connection to Isis, which leads to elements of divine magic creeping into the story. It’s not always subtle, and I found a couple of parts a bit jarring until I found the rhythm of the story. Perhaps it’s because Selene doesn’t have much control over some of the events that they feel almost artificial until I can really lose myself in the world that Selene inhabits. Once I do, the transitions into magic certainly feel smoother. All the same, there were a couple of times where it felt as if magic was used only to move the story in a particular direction. Those instances would fit the story, but in the back of my head I’d still be wondering if there might have been a better way to accomplish the same end. With that being said, Ms. Dray does a good job of avoiding the trap that some other writers fall into when writing about Egyptian magic: she sticks to the Egyptian mindset without shoehorning in popular metaphysical elements that the Egyptians themselves wouldn’t have known of.

Above all, I’m glad to see that Selene is still very much a strong and independent minded woman. Even though she’s not always what I would expect, she’s true to her ideals and motives and her interactions with Augustus are fascinating to watch, especially as things become more and more complex. Ms. Dray has made great use of research to bring out new possibilities to explore, and it’s fascinating to watch a new take on this story be told. Even though the magic may not always feel as seamless as I’d like, it certainly does feel like it belongs in the period. It’s also an interesting window into Isis worship. For those who love watching politics on an ancient stage and don’t mind a bit of the supernatural, “Song of the Nile” is a fascinating read. I would highly recommend reading “Lily of the Nile” first, however. There is enough information to catch the reader up on facts, but many of the subtler events and evolutions would be easy to miss without the context of the first book. I am eagerly looking forward to seeing where Selene’s story takes us in the next volume!

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