Lily of the Nile had been in my library for a few years, waiting to be read. Then I read A Year of Ravens, which Stephanie Dray contributed to. I loved that book. And since I had Lily of the Nile lying around, I decided to finally crack it open. Disappointment, what are thee? Certainly this book doth not bespoke of thee.
Ahem, okay, that was weird. In any case, what I was trying to say was, damn, I should’ve cracked open this sucker sooner. I think part of the reason I didn’t read it right away was that I had a Cleopatra Selene fatigue after reading Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter (which I also loved). Now, I want to devour the rest of this trilogy, which I’ll have to wait for because I don’t currently have in my hands the next two books.
While I’m waiting, I’ll describe the book. It is about Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of the famous Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and the Roman soldier Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius). Not too much is known about this historical figure. Historians of the day noted that she was taken to Rome where she lived under Octavia’s roof. Well, lucky for us, Stephanie Dray weaves a sparkling tale of the mysterious princess.
It doesn’t start off sparkly or great though. In fact, it starts with the tragic ending to Cleopatra’s story and Selene, unfortunately, has a fatal part to play in it. Only a girl, she doesn’t realize what she is carrying until it is too late. This unworthy guilt plagues Selene for years. Selene, her twin Helios, and her little brother Philadelphus are carted off to Rome where they are marched through the streets in Octavian’s triumph. It is here, as Cleopatra’s daughter begs for her life and those of her brothers, where Selene’s story truly begins.
Selene must adjust to life in Rome. She must figure out a way to keep her dignity and her life. And she struggles with what her twin believes they must do and what she thinks they ought to do. And most of all, she struggles with her faith in Isis. After all, if Isis could let her mother and father die and allow their children to suffer at the hands of enemies, maybe Isis couldn’t protect anyone at all. Maybe Isis was never there.
Another key theme to the book is Selene’s relationship to Octavian. It is complex and it all comes together at the end. Octavian is merciful, but he plays a game, one that Selene learns in order to survive and to keep her brothers safe. She proves herself to be more than just Cleopatra’s daughter.
It’s easy to forget that Selene is only around twelve or thirteen in this book. By the end of it, she’s about sixteen, maybe. And at first it was a little jarring to see the mighty Octavian or Agrippa in such a different light. The book is, of course, told from Selene’s point of view. So, that accounts for that. I must admit, though, I kept imagining the actors from HBO’s Rome and I was kind of glad to see a little bit of romantic tension between Octavia and Agrippa just like in the show. I’m not sure if that was a real thing or not, historically speaking, but it was fun.
The fantastical elements were a little weird at first, only because I don’t expect to see them in historical fiction, but they weren’t overdone or so out there that I couldn’t get past it. I’m an easily pleased person, in any case, when it comes to bending the truth in historicals. As long as it doesn’t turn into alternate history (like, I don’t know, Octavian loses to Cleopatra or something major like that), this doesn’t bother me at all.
Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I would recommend it to fans of Roman history.
My rating: 4/5