Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran
Release date: September 4th, 2009
Publisher: Broadway Books
Genres: Historical fiction
At the dawn of the Roman Empire, when tyranny ruled, a daughter of Egypt and a son of Rome found each other…
Selene’s legendary parents are gone. Her country taken, she has been brought to the city of Rome in chains, with only her twin brother, Alexander, to remind her of home and all she once had.
Living under the watchful eyes of the ruling family, Selene and her brother must quickly learn how to be Roman – and how to be useful to Caesar. She puts her artistry to work, in the hope of staying alive and being allowed to return to Egypt. Before long, however, she is distracted by the young and handsome heir to the empire…
When the elusive ‘Red Eagle’ starts calling for the end of slavery, Selene and Alexander are in grave danger. Will this mysterious figure bring their liberation, or their demise?
When I had first read Cleopatra’s Daughter I had been going through a long and frustrating reading slump. Every book I picked up lost my interest a few pages in. This book ended that slump and reignited my love for historical fiction. It also made me a fan of Michelle Moran. She is a master at crafting historical fiction, creating a balance between historical fact and entertainment, with strong women at the centre of each book.
Cleopatra’s Daughter begins at the end of Egypt’s war with Rome. Cleopatra and Marc Anthony have committed suicide and their young children, twins named Selene and Alexander, are captured and sent to Rome. Selene is a wonderful protagonist and the reader really gets to know her as a character because the story is told through her point of view. This was really beneficial because like Selene, the reader is also being introduced to Rome and the large cast of characters. At times too much information was given and it read like a textbook, but as a lover of history, I didn’t mind at all. This only made me want to read more about the time period! While these characters are historical and could have easily remained famous names found in a history book, Moran’s characterization makes them lifelike, as if they could jump off the page. I really cared about Selene. She endured so much tragedy early in life and spent everyday in Rome having to watch her back, it was not easy living with the enemy.
While based in the past, much of the book discussed topics that ring true today such as the rights of women and independence. Rome was a patriarchal society where even noble women were the property of their husbands. All of the women in the book were at the mercy of Octavian, who ruled with an iron first. Selene was also never able to make decisions about her own life. As a “guest” in Rome, she was constantly reminded that she was the daughter of a conquered nation. All of her words and thoughts had to be closely guarded as she was always being watched.
The theme of independence was introduced through the Red Eagle, a fictional character who was fighting to end slavery. Slavery was rampant in ancient Rome and the book provides the reader with clear examples of how the slaves were mistreated. Selene admired the Red Eagle because this person was willing to fight for what was right. It also made her realize that she was only safe because her father had been a noble. Everyday she walked the fine line between being a guest and a slave.
Moran clearly conducted meticulous research on the characters and time period portrayed in the book. Her interest in the topic and enthusiasm for it practically jump off the page. Very little is actually known about Selene, she barely appears in the historical record, but fictionalized events from her life and even the Red Eagle storyline blend naturally with real events. I highly recommend this book to all readers, but especially to those who enjoy historical fiction.