Michelle Moran’s young adult novel “Cleopatra’s Daughter” is an engaging read for the teen set. It brings the world of the Ptolemies and Augustan Rome and the ruling cast of characters to life in a way that many sixteen year olds can relate to, all while educating them on important historical events and fears: Augustus’s reign, the fear of slave revolts, and Rome becoming an empire.
Cleopatra Selene, while the disgraced daughter of Queen Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony, is a feisty, strong-willed character who does not give up. Her alienation in a land that was the sworn enemy of her mother allows teenagers, who often feel alienated as well, to sympathize and even begin to understand her plight.
Moran also does a wonderful job of creating and resolving internal conflicts. Selene is at first wary of Octavia, but by the end of the novel, she does come to respect the woman who, in her own way, does show her compassion and support. Octavia, while never replacing Selene’s mother, does support her adoptive daughter; mainly by trying to protect her from an unhappy marriage with a senator older than her and by having her train as an architect.
There are also the heartbreaking deaths that occur in the novel. Michelle exquisitely captures the heartbreak that anyone who has ever lost a loved one will understand. Selene’s grief and coping mechanisms will break the reader’s heart and make them feel as if they too, have lost someone special in their lives.
Ethics are also integral to the plot. The mysterious Red Eagle, who stages slave revolts and frees the downtrodden, is an important focal point for the plot. With Augustus trying desperately to keep his new-found power in place, Rome is rife with fear and suspicion. No one is safe, not even Marcellus, who is considered the heir apparent to his Uncle, Caesar Augustus. With the character of Gallia giving voice to the hundreds of those in slavery, readers get a sense of just how awful Rome could be to those conquered.
Moran brings history to life and makes it palatable for the teen and young adult set in a way that few authors are able to do. It is quite obvious that she has done her historical research, and she has done a fantastic job at giving the teenaged Princess Cleopatra Selene a voice. For readers, young and old, looking for an engrossing historical read, “Cleopatra’s Daughter” is a must-have for your bookshelf!