Cleopatra’s Heir

Written by Gillian Bradshaw
Review by James Hawking

This latest tale of adventure by one of our finest historical novelists begins with the premise that Caesarion survived an attempted execution by hiding under a pile of dead bodies. Bradshaw portrays a youth raised in the Hellenic culture of the palace at Alexandria, now only alive because he is believed to be dead. In a world where the Romans are supplanting the Greeks after the defeat of Antony, the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar adopts the alias Arion and drifts into the world of camel caravans and merchant ships. His belief that “a crocodile is more clement than Octavian” makes him flee from his “second cousin once removed.”

A caravan driver with ambitions to become a merchant helps the young king to adapt to the world of trade. Arion remains suspicious, secretive and arrogant, but as he learns more about the world outside the palace, we see him grow. Like his father, he suffers from epilepsy, which is delineated in a masterly fashion. His seizures influence both the plot and the style of the book. Particularly effective is the description of his reaction to the news of his mother’s suicide.

Bradshaw has once again combined quirky characters, a suspenseful plot and accurate representation of the historical milieu to produce a novel that is satisfying on many levels.