Karen Essex has written a well researched, engrossing account of Kleopatra VII, the last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt. Like most stories of this queen, it begins with the death of her mother when Kleopatra was less than six years old. The present book (a sequel is to be published in August of 2002) concentrates on her childhood — fully half the story takes place before she is thirteen. Kleopatra tells how the child grew up motherless and learned to deal with a pathetic fool of a father, two usurping, murderous sisters, a petulant younger brother who demanded that she be his queen and wife, and numerous scheming court eunuchs, Roman politicians, and Greek scholars. She learned to speak several languages (and became the first Ptolemy in 300 years who could converse in Egyptian), developed a first-class mind, and survived an amazing number of attempts on her life. This book ends just as Kleopatra is to meet the great Julius Caesar for the first time, in the well-known scene where she is smuggled into her own palace wrapped in a rug.
Kleopatra and its subject are fascinating, and I only wish I could immediately pick up the second volume