Having made her way through the European princesses of note (Duchessina, 2007, etc.), Meyer dishes up historical-fiction-lite in this imagined account of Cleopatra’s coming of age.
Readers follow the mildly compelling first-person account in sections, from the 10-year-old touring the Nile with her father, through the teenage power struggles with her maniacal sisters, to the securing of her throne, which she pointedly ensures at the cost of her virginity: “As the night goes on, the magnetism between us grows as strong as the pull of the moon on the tides. By the next morning I am Caesar’s mistress. I am not Caesar's conquest. He is mine.” The occasionally vivid voice of an intelligent young woman lapses into uncharacteristic moments of denseness (as she fails to heed advice she’s just given herself) or starchy historical or cultural explanations for the readers’ benefit, often inserted into conversation (“But you are right—[Caesar] has a wife in Rome. Her name is Calpurnia. His first wife, Cornelia, bore him his only child, Julia, and both are dead. He divorced his second wife, Pompeia…”). For such an exciting history, the narrative arc lags under the inconsistent voice.
Readers who hungry purely for lots of effective detail of an ancient culture, time and place may find this a digestible-enough vehicle for it, with oodles of backmatter for support. (Historical fiction. 11-14)