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When Cleopatra and Marc Antony are defeated by Octavian, their children are taken to Rome, where Octavian can make sure they don’t become rallying points for those who might oppose his rule. Their daughter Selene is never happy in Rome and constantly looks for ways to win her family’s way back home.
This book jumps right into the action as Octavian conquers Alexandria and thus Egypt. It grabbed my attention right away and held it until I finished.
I really enjoyed the way that Moran brought these historical figures from so long ago into such a vibrant reality for me. I even cared about (or hated, as the case may be) the minor people from history that I hadn’t heard of before. Selene herself is just a great character. She’s smart, strong, independent, loyal, free-thinking, and far from perfect. Who likes perfect characters anyway? She acts without thinking sometimes and gets herself in trouble. I did occasionally get confused by the names. There were Octavian/Octavia and Antonia/Tonia. In the author notes, Moran said she actually changed some of the names to make it less confusing. I guess Octavian and Octavia are so famous that she didn’t feel like she could change them, but I frequently had to stop and try to remember which one was the emperor and which one was his sister.
I know people got married younger and didn’t live half as long as we do now, but these kids felt entirely too old. Selene and Alexander are supposed to be 11-15 years old when this takes place, but they honestly felt about a decade older to me. Moran addressed this in her Afterword, saying that they had been so highly educated and trained to rule practically from birth that they would feel precocious to us. I can buy that. I would just get pulled out of the story frequently, thinking how no 11-year-old girl would be trying to think about how to regain her kingdom, or planning how she’s going to rebuild a city. It might be accurate, but it was hard for this modern reader to get past it.
I do wish that Moran hadn’t combined some human-rights acts into a fictional character called the Red Eagle. I really don’t read non-fiction, so historical fiction is how I get my history. I’m more likely to remember the Red Eagle than the fact that he wasn’t real.
I found this to be engrossing historical fiction about a fascinating period in time.