I’d originally started reading this book, Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter, back in September.  Then my own Queen Cleo got really sick and died, and I had to put it down.  Last week, I finally picked it back up.  Here’s my review.

Statistics
Checkouts: New to the library
Typical reader: Students forced to do book reports on historical fiction.  And hopefully girls who like history and strong female figures.
Source: Superiorland Preview Center

Synopsis: Cleopatra Selene, daughter of the last queen of Egypt and the Roman Marcus Antonius, tells of her life from her idyllic days as a child, through her captivity in Rome in the household of her conqueror, to arriving in Mauritania to marry the client-king of that country.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

What’s the nice thing about reviewing a book about a historical figure’s life?  No spoilers!  Unless you’re picking up this book or reading my review of it with no prior knowledge of the life of Cleopatra Selene, you probably know the basic facts.

  • Cleopatra Selene was the only daughter of Queen Cleopatra VII, the last monarch of Egypt
  • Her father was Marcus Antonius, otherwise known as Mark Antony (the Roman triumvir who features in two of Shakespeare’s works, not the Latin pop singer)
  • She had a twin brother, Alexandros Helios, and a younger brother, Ptolemy Philadelphus
  • They had an older half-brother, Caesarion, whose father was Julius Caesar
  • She, Alexandros, and Ptolemy were taken after their parents’ defeat and deaths to Rome and marched in Octavian’s Triumph
  • Little or nothing is written about her brothers after that
  • She married Juba, the king of Mauritania, who was also raised in Rome by his people’s conquerors

This book fills in the gaps, from Cleopatra Selene’s point-of-view.  It is a richly-woven tale of a princess who started life happily and then had her world come crashing done around her.  Much of this blurs the line between historical and speculative fiction, but Ms. Shecter spins a pretty good yarn.  There’s intrigue, a dash of romance, Egyptian mythology, and one very smart heroine who manages to survive everything life throws at her.

One thing I particularly liked about the novel was how Rome was portrayed.  Roman history was most often written by the Romans, since they were the victors.  As this is from Selene’s perspective, we get a view of Rome that was probably just as accurate as the grand records of the likes of Plutarch and Seneca.  To Selene, Rome is filthy, abhorrent, and barbaric in comparison to her fair Alexandria, with its Library and Great Lighthouse.  We’re also treated to a view of the most famous and infamous queen of the ancient world from her daughter’s adoring perspective.  Today we know that Queen Cleopatra VII was extremely intelligent, and had written many treatises on a variety of matters; she was not just the cunning seductress both Rome and Hollywood made her out to be.  Cleopatra Selene’s account offers a view of just how awesome the queen likely was, but with a touch of motherly love.

I will say that the beginning of the book was slow.  Some of the Egyptian mythology that she learned is interesting, but for the most part, Celopatra Selene’s placid life was … dull.  The pace really does not pick up until Marcus Antonius kills himself.  But the novel after that is quite worth a read.

Oh, and the cats included in the novel are awesome.  As well they should be.


My cat had been named Cleocatra, after Cleopatra Selene’s mother.  My dog is named Jubatus, as in the genus name for a cheetah; he looked a bit like a baby cheetah when we adopted him, and I’m a nerd like that.  We call him Juba for short.

A couple years after getting Juba, I read a biography on Cleopatra … and learned that Cleopatra Selene married a King Juba.  This is really a great joke in the household.  King Juba of Mauritania was a scholar king.  Juba the dog is not particularly bright.

Also,

unlike in the novel and likely in real history, my Cleo and Juba were better off ignoring each other.
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