Cleopatra’s Moon

Written by Vicky Alvear Shecter
Review by James Hawking

This story of Cleopatra’s daughter by Mark Antony comes from a press specializing in books for young adults, and follows the familiar format of a young girl rebelling against being told she must spin wool and can’t play ball with the boys or study seriously. This is not to say that the novel has no appeal for adults interested in Roman fiction. Young Cleopatra Selene strives to regain her kingdom, restore Egyptian independence, and have a few variously motivated love affairs along the way. A familiar cast of characters includes the villainous Octavianus, his sister Octavia, his precociously promiscuous daughter Julia, and the omnipresent Livia. Operating within these parameters, the book still manages some twists and surprises. In keeping with the mission of the press, the section entitled “The Facts within the Fiction” helps the reader sort out the fiction from the history in a way that more historical novels should do.

In the acknowledgments, the author mentions that she had been discouraged when she found out that another novel on the same subject was soon to appear. This was undoubtedly Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter, reviewed rather harshly in the November 2009 issue of this magazine. I disagree with the author’s original premise that there is room for only one historical novel on each subject, and I would recommend both to the interested reader. History has been described as an ongoing argument, and the branch of history that is historical fiction has interesting disputes of its own.