Following in a parent’s footsteps is never easy…especially when your parents are Cleopatra and Mark Antony.
From the little known about the lives of Cleopatra Selene and her two brothers, taken to Rome after the deaths of their parents to live in the emperor’s compound, Shecter has written an entertaining but ultimately thin first novel. The first-person narration follows Cleopatra Selene from age 7 to 16 as she grows politically savvy, falls in love and sets her own course. The author has written nonfiction books for children about this era (Cleopatra Rules!, 2010, etc.), and here the historical context and characters are well drawn. The sadistic family plotting in Octavianus’ compound makes for intriguing storytelling, and Cleopatra Selene’s loneliness, terror and ultimate bravery are well developed. Yet she’s just not believable as a brainy 25th-century-BCE princess, exhibiting a 21st-century naïveté (especially regarding espionage) and the subtlety of a school bus. Conversations with her beloved introduce the audience to philosophical concepts of Stoicism, free will and women’s rights, but there’s almost an avoidance of issues of slavery and sovereignty, for all their essential part in the plot.
Readers will enjoy what is still a romantic and exciting story, but with the tease of such rich material they’ll miss the meatiness of such storytellers as Katherine Sturtevant, Megan Whalen Turner or Robin McKinley. (character list, author’s note) (Fiction. 10-14)