Daughters of the Nile

Written by Stephanie Dray
Review by Waheed Rabbani

This final volume of the Cleopatra’s Daughter trilogy continues the story of the life of Selene, beginning in the year 19 BC. She is now the 19-year-old Queen of Mauretania. She and King Juba rule their client kingdom for the benefit of the Roman emperor, Augustus, and have brought much prosperity to that land. As a child, Selene had been kept virtually a prisoner in Rome. She endured much mistreatment by Augustus under the fallacy that she might rule Egypt one day. With the abundance of grain Mauretania is providing Rome, it would seem Selene would be left in peace to raise her daughter and son. She intends to rebuild her Isiac legacy. However, while on a visit to Rome, Augustus demands that Selene’s children remain there. This command leads to a confrontation that tests Selene’s magical skills. Her future and that of Mauretania is at stake.

Recently the Cairo Museum identified an overlooked statue depicting two children standing with their arms entwined as that of Cleopatra’s and Mark Antony’s twins, Selene and Helios. This discovery will surely rekindle interest in their lives. Dray has used the ambiguities of the era skillfully by filling in unrecorded details and using “too-strange-not-to-be-true” historical elements to give believable depth and breadth to a fictionalised story. The Roman period comes alive before our eyes. One such vision is the depiction of her lost twin, Helios. He appears in reality as well as magically throughout Selene’s life. Alluding to the Pharaonic-era practice of sister-brother marriages, Dray has portrayed the intensity of the twins’ bond. Although some readers might find their love scenes disturbing, they are dramatised artistically. While the storyline sags in parts, Dray’s strong writing carries the readers to the ending. Recommended.