Song of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra’s Daughter

Written by Stephanie Dray
Review by Nanette Donohue

As daughter of the legendary Queen Cleopatra, Cleopatra Selene has an impressive legacy behind her. In the second novel in Dray’s projected trilogy about the young royal, Selene leaves the life she has fought for in Rome to marry her former tutor Juba and to corule the Roman kingdom of Mauretania with him. While Selene cares for Juba, she is afraid to love him, knowing how love destroyed her mother. Following the wedding, the Roman emperor Augustus, in conjunction with his wife Livia, rapes Selene, and is shocked that she is still a virgin. Selene refuses to let Augustus’s assault ruin her, calling on her patron goddess Isis for strength. It is Isis’s guidance that helps Selene win over the people of Mauretania, who begin to see her as the living embodiment of the goddess – just as the people of Egypt saw her mother.

Selene’s struggle to emerge from her mother’s shadow and her continued quest to rule her homeland of Egypt are central to this novel. While Cleopatra was known as a seductress as well as a priestess of Isis, Selene has little interest in seducing her way into power. Despite her young age, her weapon of choice is her political savvy – honed through years of living in Rome, where everyone she encounters could be a threat. As in the previous novel, Lily of the Nile, Dray has a masterful command of social customs and history of the era, balancing a large number of characters, each with his or her own motivation, carefully. Despite everything that happens, Song of the Nile never seems unfocused or overstuffed.

As queen of Mauretania, Cleopatra Selene finally begins to reconcile her legacy with her future. I look forward to seeing where the third volume of the trilogy takes her.