Tuesday, January 3, 2012

That Other Egyptian Princess: Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Good historical fiction can be hard to come by.  A great piece of historical fiction manages to walk a delicate balancing act, combining a solid, well-researched historical framework and a rich, engrossing story.  In good historical novels, the authors manage to transport the reader into another time, place, and culture through accurate historical details and good old-fashioned character development; they must delicately craft a good, readable story out of historical facts, keeping just the right amount of 'history' and 'fiction' to satisfy a diverse group of readers. Since great historical fiction can sometimes be rare, it is especially satisfying when you stumble upon a great new historical novel like Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter!

Cleopatra Selene has always known exactly whom she was: princess of Egypt, daughter of the brilliant Queen Cleopatra and General Marcus Antonius, and a great queen in the making.  Growing up within the palace in the culturally and intellentually diverse city of Alexandria, Cleopatra Selene and her brothers learn multiple languages, chase eachother through the stacks of the great Library, attend special celebrations and dinners, and play Roman and Egyptian games.  But then Octavianus, new leader of Rome, decides that he wants Egypt's many riches for his own developing empire and begins a fresh war against Cleopatra Selene's parents and beloved country.  Suddenly everything and everyone Cleopatra Selene has ever known and loved is destroyed and she and her young brothers are shipped off to Rome, to live as prisoners in the household of Octavianus, the very man who ruined their family.  However, although she's living a disgraced princess in exile, Cleopatra Selene refuses to forget her destiny: she will be queen of Egypt and fulfill her duty to the goddess Isis and to the people of Egypt--no matter what the cost.  Living in the heart of enemy territory, Cleopatra Selene must endure heartbreak and confusion as she struggles to choose between romance and power in her quest to live up to (and perhaps beyond) her mother's example.

Cleopatra's Moon fits my personal definition of good historical fiction perfectly; Shecter has seamlessly combined historical facts, cultural details, and good old-fashioned storytelling to create a rich and addictive novel.  Using Cleopatra Selene's very aware and distinct voice, Shecter brings to life the varied worlds of ancient Alexandria and Rome, clearly displaying a vast amount of research but never overburdening the plot with dry facts or trivia.  The characters, especially the determined and unsinkable Cleopatra Selene, are full developed and incredibly interesting; you might start this novel because of an interest in ancient history or epic drama but you will stick around for the rich characters.  The story is a excellent balance of action, romance, and emotional highs and lows that will keep you turning pages.  Shecter also provides a helpful character directory at the beginning and a fascinating "Facts Within The Fiction" section that summarizes the historical facts about real situations and people on which she based the novel.   A great read for lovers of historical fiction, especially those with an interest in Ancient Egypt!


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