From My Bookshelf
The story begins at the end of Cleopatra’s reign of Egypt. The story of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony is one most are familiar with. Michelle Moran take us as readers into the aftermath of their death as lived through the eyes of their eleven year old daughter Cleopatra Selene, her twin brother, Anthony Helios and her seven year old brother, Ptolemy who are forced to leave the only home they have ever known to live in a Rome ruled by their conqueror Caesar Octavian Augustus.
What impressed me most throughout the story was the maturity and deportment of Selene. This poor child at eleven witnesses not only the destruction of her nation, but her Father’s death by his own hand, her Mother’s capture (and subsequent suicide via asp) as well as the death of her youngest brother Ptolemy on their journey to an uncertain future in Rome. All things considered, Selene handles it all remarkably well keeping her wits about her. Further into the story as she ages to fifteen, Moran rounds out her character well allowing for more complex emotions and depictions of her personality to evolve while still keeping it clear Selene is a teenager albeit a very mature one. As readers we see Selene become almost the ultimate survivor. She learns how to handle the politics of living with her captor’s family, in the precarious position of not quite a free person and not quite a slave all while having an uncertain future. The only advice she receives is that to survive she needs to “be helpful.”
Moran’s depictions of roman life are also well penned. We are given a clear picture of what day to day life was for not only those at the top but those close to the bottom. The fate of Selene and Alexander is shown in stark contrast to that of Gallia, once a Gallic princess and now a slave in the house of Octavia. We see the dark side to roman life including the Columna Lactaria where unwanted children (usually girls) are left out to starve or worse become slaves and prostitutes. Descriptions of the theatre, circus and forum paint a vivid and realistic picture of Rome. I can almost see Rome as an ancient Boston or New York City where the wealthy rub elbows against the masses.
All in all my only criticism is the lackluster way in which Selene ends her time in Rome. I found the last 20 pages to be entirely too abrupt an ending to what should have been more richly detailed.