Thursday, September 8, 2011
Cleopatra's Moon - Vicky Alvear Shecter
Title: Cleopatra's Moon
Author: Vicky Alvear Shecter
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 343 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: September 5, 2011
Finished: September 7, 2011
From the inside cover:
Princess of Egypt, Prisoner of Rome
Cleopatra Selene is the only daughter of the brilliant Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and General Marcus Antonius of Rome. She's grown up with jewels on her arms, servants at her feet, and all the pleasures of a palace at her command, and she only wants to follow in her mother's footsteps and become a great and powerful queen.
Then the Roman ruler Octavianus, who has always wanted Egypt's wealth, launches a war that destroys all Selene has ever known. Taken to live in Octavianus' palace in Rome, she vows to defeat him and reclaim her kingdom at all costs. Yet even as she gathers support for her return, Selene finds herself torn between two young men and two different paths to power. Will love distract her from her goal-or help her achieve her true destiny?
Epic in scope and ravishing in detail, this novel reveals the extraordinary life of a girl long hidden in history: the remarkable Cleopatra Selene.
I picked this up purely because I hardly ever see YA historical fiction based in this period of history, and definitely not on this particular subject. My husband was a history and classics major in university, as were most of my friends, so I love these types of historical fiction stories. Luckily for me, Cleopatra's Moon was a joy to read: wonderfully evocative and thought-provoking.
The story opens up in 25 BCE with Cleopatra Selene at age 16 as she grieves the death of her twin brother Alexandros Helios. The story then backtracks to Selene at age 7 in Alexandria, Egypt, where readers get a snapshot of her life at the palace with her mother, father, and brothers (Caesarion, Alexandros Helios, and Ptloemy Philadelphios). We see through conversations that Octavianus, Julius Caesar's heir apparent (but not biologically), is preparing to wage war on Egypt and eventually achieves that when Selene is 11. Overwhelmed and vulnerable, Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra both commit suicide (Antonius doing this in front of Selene), and Caesarion is killed to remove his claim to succession (Caesarion is the child of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar). In a carefully balanced show of Rome's political goodwill towards its conquered countries, Octavianus takes Cleopatra's 3 remaining children back with him to Rome as prisoners of war. Living in Octavianus' compound with his sister Octavia, wife Livia and all their children, always being reminded of her family's demise and subject to constant insults about her mother, Selene vows to somehow regain control over Egypt and defy Octavianus.
Some reviewers have criticized the novel as being too slow at times, and that Selene's narration is too old and mature considering the various ages she progresses through. I didn't find the novel slow in any parts, but granted I liked all the detail of her early life in Egypt, so it might be just me. As for the narration, I think what most of these reviewers failed to realize is that Selene is looking back on the events of her early life at the age of 16/17, so of course her narration will sound like an older teenager's even though she's supposed to be 7 at the time, because she's reflecting, kind of like a memoir. Those are a few common complaints that I found kind of moot.
I love the feminist undertones woven throughout the whole novel. Selene is used to an Egyptian society that values women, and is surprised when she encounters other faiths and societies that don't (first the Jewish population in Alexandria and then Rome itself). Selene is like her mother: fiery, determined, and willing to do what she must for the good of Egypt. Although she holds onto the fact that the Goddess Isis will show her her destiny, it takes Selene the better part of the book to realize that she must make her own decisions and not base them on what she thinks the Goddess wants for her or what her mother would have done. The love triangle element in the book really isn't a huge focus like in typical YA, which was nice to see, and isn't really a triangle, since Selene makes it clear early on that she desires only one choice while she would use the other purely for political gain (I had to smile at that part). Selene is a very strong female character, and I have to commend the author for not only presenting a well-written and researched piece of historical fiction, but one that contains inherently strong female characters that she balances between historical fact and added details to flesh out their personalities.
Rarely explored subject matter for YA, amazingly well-written, incredibly well-researched, and a strong female character to boot, what more could you ask for? An excellent novel, one I thoroughly enjoyed.
Thoughts on the cover:
Love it. The black and gold colour scheme is beautiful (especially the fact that the gold parts are shiny in some areas), and the whole layout of the cover and the pose of the model is simple yet elegant. I also like how the model looks like Cleopatra Selene would've looked like, so yay for no whitewashing in this cover!