The pitch: Cleopatra Selene, daughter of the late Cleopatra and Marc Antony, has been cast out of Rome by Octavian and is sailing to meet her fate, a new husband she doesn’t know. Her beloved twin brother is dead; she is desperate to bury him in the Egyptian fashion, which looks like witchcraft to the superstitious Roman sailors. When she convinces the sailors to give her the time to bury her brother, she remembers her childhood in Egypt, Octavian’s betrayal and the death of her parents, and her life with her siblings in Octavian’s estate in Rome.
The review: I can’t stop thinking about this gorgeous book. For weeks, whenever someone asked me what I’d read and loved recently, I raved about Cleopatra’s Moon. It’s not at all my time period — I had my mummies phase like every kid, but otherwise my historical interests have rarely pushed older than the 19th century.
So this book achieved the goals of the best historical fiction: it immersed me in an utterly alien place and time and made me believe it. I ate, smelled, and breathed breezy, educated Egypt followed by oppressive, bellicose Rome, and I felt the tragedy of the loss of pre-Octavian Egypt. I wandered the streets of the Jewish ghettos of that time (a rabbi character gives unusual depth to the book’s understanding of the larger multicultural ancient world). I got to know Queen Cleopatra and Marc Antony as larger-than-life figures, in the way a child sees her powerful parents as larger-than-life. Cleopatra Selene and her brothers are my friends now, in a way I have rarely felt after reading biographical novelizations.
There is a danger in this, of course, that I feel like I “know” things that aren’t historically accurate. Shecter appears to have done her research, though, and in a detailed afterword lined up the facts on historical record and the places where she took artistic license. I feel confident that she separated truth from fiction for me, and perhaps more importantly, she made me care which was which. Highly recommended to just about any adult and older YA readers who want a damn good story, beautifully told.
Also reviewed by: Kirkus Reviews (who found it “thin” — huh), Book Smugglers (who loved it like I did), Brown Bookshelf (who found it trying for the same reason I loved it: more history than love triangle), and Forever YA (fun as always, but her “casting call” is way too white).