by Michelle Moran
*** About the Book ***
After Octavian defeated the forces of Marc Antony at Alexandria, and after Marc Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, Octavian took their 11-year-old twins Selene and Alexander with him back to Rome. He sent them to his sister's household, where she raised them beside her own children, while Octavian used them to bolster his own position with the Senate and the people. The twins grow up amid the intrigue of the ruling family of Rome, torn between their hatred of Octavian for his defeat of their parents and their hope that he will allow them to return to Egypt. They experience young adulthood as Romans, going to school, participating in festivals, watching as their friends are married off. And all this is set to the background of the mystery of the Red Eagle, a man who is anonymously pushing for the end of slavery in the Roman Empire and threatening Octavian's authority.
*** Why I Read It***
I've been hearing great things about Michelle Moran's books for quite a while so I was thrilled when she offered me a copy of this book to review. This is the first of her books I've had the chance to read.
*** My Thoughts ***
If this is any indication of the quality of Michelle Moran's other books, then I am in for a treat when I pick them up. This book was well written, interesting, packed with historical detail, the characters had depth, and I really enjoyed the time I spent reading it.
I loved getting to know Selene and Alexander, and seeing things through Selene's eyes. Her memories of her parents and her home in Alexandria contrasted with her first impressions of Rome and its decidedly foreign customs in ways that were enjoyable to read. I also appreciated Selene's strength, and how the way that she was raised by Cleopatra to be intelligent and independent was in such direct opposition to the way girls in Rome were raised.
It was fun for me to read about Selene and the other children learning Homer in school. I loved my own encounters with THE ILIAD and THE ODYSSEY; what an experience it must have been to study them when they weren't yet ancient history! And to have dinner with Virgil, and hear Ovid perform in the theater - this truly was a time of great literary minds. The talent and culture Selene and her companions were exposed to was truly amazing.
I did feel that the Red Eagle subplot was a bit contrived but I haven't heard anyone else mention it and it didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the book in any significant way, so I can't really complain.
*** The Real History ***
I love it when authors include detailed historical notes that clarify what is and is not true in their historical fiction novel, and Moran's author's note is one of the best I've read.
The core of her story is based on actual, documented facts. Very few of the characters were created specifically for the story, and very few changes were made to actual historical figures to enhance the story. Selene & Alexander were, in fact, taken in by Octavian's sister, who seems to have cared for them a great deal. The Red Eagle did not exist but was based on historical events and real-life rebel leaders. I won't say more than that, as you can find the details of the true history in the author's note, and I don't want to give away any of the plot.
A Christmas Connection: It may interest you to note that Octavian, later known as Caesar Augustus, is the same guy who is mentioned in the Bible as the one who called for the census that led Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where the baby Jesus was born. You can find the mention of Caesar in Luke 2:1.
*** Your Thoughts ***
Have you read any of Michelle Moran's other books? My Secret Santa gave me THE HERETIC QUEEN and I'm looking forward to reading that one. Are there other books about Cleopatra that you'd recommend? I have Colin Falconer's WHEN WE WERE GODS on my shelf waiting to be read right now ...
Here are some other reviews of this book that you might want to check out: