Pros: The reader gets to see the aftermath of Cleopatra’s bid for power not only from the eyes of her daughter, but from the Roman perspective as well.
Cons: Historical purists may not enjoy a couple of tweaks to the timeline that help the story flow more smoothly. Selene’s brother also feels a bit flat in comparison to her.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
After the death of Cleopatra, her children are taken to Rome where they march in Octavian’s Triumph and then become absorbed into his sister Octavia’s household. For Cleopatra Selene and her two brothers, this is a drastic change in circumstances. Octavian wants them to become proper little Romans in order to further his ambition, but Selene finds it difficult to reconcile what she needs to do to survive with what her mother would have wanted her to do and the calls of her goddess. Even as she tries to find a balance, she must walk the knife’s edge of Roman politics. As she matures, Selene begins to wonder if she can use Octavian’s ambitions to further both her own ambition and the will of the goddess Isis…
I have to admit, I squealed when Stephanie Dray’s Lily of the Nile found its way into my review pile. I’m a sucker for anything Cleopatra-related, and I was thrilled to have another chance to dip my toes into her world. Selene is a fascinating character, and watching her struggle with her feelings towards her deceased mother and her goddess while trying to weave a path through Octavian’s politics and ambitions is nothing short of breathtaking.
I really have to commend the amount of research that went into developing this book. It breathes such a sense of life and immediacy into the story, and as I read I could see the streets of Rome and feel the currents of common opinion changing. It made it so much easier to enter into Selene’s head and get caught up in her life. Don’t let the depth of research intimidate you; Ms. Dray has done a wonderful job of avoiding Latin terms or confusing spellings of names if at all possible. It makes for a very enjoyable, textured read. With that being said, purists may object to Ms. Dray changing the timeline in a couple of places, but for me it didn’t take away from the story at all, as those changes aren’t too terribly drastic.
Selene’s character as envisioned by Ms. Dray is without a doubt my favorite version that I have come across. Because of the depth of research, Selene moves from the romantic portrayals that ignore most of her mother’s legacy (educational and ideological) and render her a character largely unaware of the deeper undercurrents of the world into a young woman attempting to make the best of a difficult situation using her intellect. While she still goes through personal conflict as well, this conflict becomes a part of the story as opposed to the majority of it.
With that being said, Selene’s twin brother Helios can feel a bit flat at times, because his hatred towards Octavian and the Romans is so pronounced that it can obscure the rest of his personality. While the tension that exists at times between him and Selene at times is only natural between siblings, as the book progresses his anger began to me to feel more like a plot device than a character trait.
Octavian is portrayed as a rather cold, calculating man, and records seem to bear this out. And yet what fascinated me the most about him was that no mater how much he hated Cleopatra and what she stood for, he still considered her the only one capable of appreciating the scope of what he accomplished. It is a curiously human side at odds with his hard ambition, and put an entirely new spin on my perceptions of his personality.
Politics, both personal and played out on a world stage, play a large part in the lives of Selene and her brothers. Not only do they need to satisfy Octavian, but there are undercurrents in his household with his general Agrippa, his wife Livia, and his sister Octavia. The more I read, the more I found myself measuring how I might react in a given situation against Selene’s reactions. It definitely helped me appreciate the depth of education provided by simply growing up in a royal court, because I suspect Selene acquits herself better than I ever would!
The mixing of Isis worship into this cauldron of intrigue and politics adds a layer of depth to the lives of Cleopatra’s children that had never occurred to me before. Cleopatra portrays her children in a religious light more than once while she is alive; Ms. Dray has taken that idea and extended it on into their lives. In doing so, she illuminates some of the very earliest roots that Christianity was able to adapt to when it would enter the world stage. (Some of the books that she uses for research are included in the introduction, and I’m definitely going to have to track a few of them down.)
I absolutely adored this book, and I am thrilled to finally see Cleopatra Selene getting treated with just as much respect as her illustrious mother. Ms. Dray’s meticulous research has crafted a multi-dimensional world easy to get lost in, which is why I devoured the book in one sitting! Since this is the first novel in a trilogy, I am eagerly awaiting book two to see just how far some of the ripples in this book will spread.