Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran

Many of us know the story of Cleopatra, the beautiful and famed Egyptian queen who wedded Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony and who killed herself after Octavian conquered Egypt. But how many know what happened to her children? Cleopatra’s Daughter (ironic, really, that the story persists in snobbishly spelling her name Kleopatra when the title spells it with a C) tells the story of Kleopatra Selene, Cleopatra’s daughter who was brought to Rome in chains after her parents’ defeat. The story follows her transition from girl to young woman as she lives in Rome and interacts with historical characters ranging from Tiberius to Julia to Ovid.
I enjoyed many aspects of Cleopatra’s Daughter. Michelle Moran is a good writer and she does a great job fleshing out historical characters and events. It really brought history to life. The story flows well and really is interesting. The historical setting and the basically unknown personality of Selene alone provides a setting for a fascinating book. The mystery thrown in kept the plot going as well. It really was a decent, fun, historical read. However, it never got above 3 our of 5 stars in my mind. I “liked” it, but only just.
Truthfully, I didn’t care much for the main character, Selene. She had very few redeeming qualities. She was snobbish, jealous, conniving, and, frankly, boring. She is also perfect at everything. Selene is beautiful, excels at school, and is so excellent at drawing that a famous architect basically makes her his star apprentice. She whines about how unfair and difficult her life is (*gasp*, Octavian will choose a husband for her! The man could be old!) when in fact it only reflected the reality of every Roman girl. She could easily have been sold as a slave, or killed. The farther I got in the book, the harder it was to sympathize with her.
However, what I disliked most about Selene was her crush on Marcellus. Talk about angst overload! On the one hand, she is supposed to be this intelligent, shrewd woman. On the other hand, she continues to pine after this dopey guy for years just because he has a handsome face? Ugh.
Selene also throws out her sense and intelligence when it comes to the mystery of the Red Eagle. It is OBVIOUS who the Red Eagle is, but she continues to stumble about, mentally accusing the same two people. The Red Eagle plot line was stretched out far too long. Once it became obvious who the Red Eagle was, the mystery ceased to be, and instead there were simply endless paragraphs of Selene and the other characters wondering who it was. While the Red Eagle mystery helped pull the plot from utter dullness, it wasn’t quite enough to create suspense.
Perhaps it wasn’t just the Red Eagle mystery, the book itself was too long. Moran spends a lot of time talking about the social wrongs of Rome, particularly the way unwanted infants were treated. However, while it adds to Selene’s frustration with Rome, it doesn’t actually add to the plot.
Overall, I would say my biggest frustration with this book (besides my dislike for Selene) was its loose plot. Is it a romance? A mystery? A slice of life? None of those elements are developed well enough to make this book a tight, cohesive story. It was a good story, an enjoyable one, but not something that fully satisfied me. The frustrating thing is, it could have been!
While I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from reading Cleopatra’s Daughter, I also wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it either.


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