The Drowning King

Written by Emily Holleman
Review by J. Lynn Else

Book two of Holleman’s Fall of Egypt series (after Cleopatra’s Shadows) is told from the points of view of Cleopatra’s younger siblings, Arsinoe and Ptolemy. In 51 BC, when their father passes, his will dictates that Cleopatra and Ptolemy will rule jointly. However, through the years, Cleopatra and Ptolemy plot to take the throne from each other, with Arsinoe torn between the two. While vying for Roman allies, Cleopatra beats Ptolemy to a meeting with Caesar. Intrigued, Caesar gives Rome’s support to Cleopatra and provides her the means to rule alone. But, as Cleopatra distances herself from her beloved sister, Arsinoe begins to see Cleopatra making the same mistakes as their father and seeks to free Alexandria from Rome’s influence. But what will Arsinoe’s own bid for power truly cost—her family or the entire country?

This book has political intrigue, warring factions, shifting loyalties, and sibling incest—basically an ancient Egyptian Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, Holleman’s inaccurate details took me out of the narrative early on. There are two references to a “heart-shaped” face (the heart shape wasn’t established until 15th-century Europe), someone being “flagged down” (not coined until early in the 1900s), and moving at a “glacial pace” (the word glacial wasn’t coined until 1846), to name a few examples. Plus, how does an Egyptian princess know about glacial movements? There are too many anachronisms. However, Holleman has lovely prose and shares fantastic details about the Ptolemy family. The setting is well done, overall, with its mix of Greek and Egyptian styles, but the book doesn’t feel period authentic with its modern idioms and speech patterns. Cleopatra’s story has been told time and again. Despite my hope, this story isn’t stronger than its well-known outcome, and I wasn’t drawn in enough to distract me from what I knew was ultimately coming.