When we think of Queen Cleopatra VII, we usually think of Liz Taylor in her stunning performance as the famous Queen, or of a sexed-up, indulgent woman who died by a bite from an asp. However, we do ourselves a disservice to pigeon-hole the Queen into a box. She was not a sexy temptress or a harridan, Queen Cleopatra VII was a shrewd politician, who fought to save her country and her children by Caesar and Marc Antony from the nefarious clutches of Octavian, who would later be known as Augustus Caesar.
It is of Cleopatra VII’s daughter, Cleopatra Selene that Stephanie Dray writes. Not much is known about Cleopatra Selena, aside from the fact that after her parents were killed, Augustus raised Selene and her two remaining brothers, Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus in his household. Selene eventually marries Juba II of Mauretania, and becomes his ruling Queen in the fullness of time. The fate of her brothers however, is unknown.
[adinserter block=”2″]Taking these facts, Dray composes a stunning novel that looks at how important Cleopatra Selene was to history, how her Ptolemaic heritage would eventually shape her future kingdom of Mauretania, and a look at how the Isaic faith is the forerunner of Christianity.
What Dray reveals is a likeable young teen who readers can relate to that is interwoven with a firm knowledge of history. She uses the correct Egyptian terms, such as sekhem for power and heka for magic, which gives her novel a taste of authenticity that can often be lacking in other historical fiction novels.
The blending of Isaic magic and actual history give “Lily of the Nile” a flavor that’s all its own and allows it to stand out amongst the other countless historical novels in the aisles of Barnes and Noble. Also, her re-interpretation of Octavian as a cold, calculating and ruthless ruler who has a love/hate relationship towards the memory of Selene’s mother shows that the Golden Age of Augustus was founded on the blood of Caesarion, the true heir of Julius Caesar, as well as Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony. His power is not secure, despite what his propaganda proclaims, and he needs the “lamentable embassy of royal orphans” to build up his power base. He wants obedient puppets; and while Selene is willing to manipulate his weaknesses for her own ends, her twin brother Alexander Helios is far more openly defiant, which causes conflicts between the twins who may just be the Saviors that the Isaics-and the East-need.
It highlights the seemingly eternal conflict of East versus West, and makes the reader wonder: what would history have been like if Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony won? “Cleopatra hadn’t just preached partnership and trust as a political creed; she’d lived it. Two Roman generals had taken her as a wife. In doing so, they proved by personal and political example that women and men could work together as rulers and equals, just as East and West could come together in a peaceful partnership.” (Dray, 95)
[adinserter block=”1″]Had Cleopatra’s vision ultimately won the day, the world might have become a more peaceful-and tolerant-place than it is now. However tantalizing that vision is, it is her daughter, Cleopatra Selene, who is her ultimate legacy. She was a Princess in exile who studied the Roman ways and turned her defeat into her advantage. Dray’s delightful and strong Cleopatra VII and Selene are characters that come alive and who are strong women. They are there for readers to take inspiration from in a modern world so dominated by misogyny and patriarchy. It’s a relief to read about strong women who fight for what they believe in, and to see characters that are not pigeon-holed into the usual female stereotypes.
Readers will be drawn into this world and will end their experience hungering for more. While the sequel is not due out until Autumn 2011, they can get their fix by visiting Stephanie Dray’s official website here: http://www.stephaniedray.com/