Review: Cleopatra’s Moon, by Vicky Alvear Shecter (Aug. 2011)

Cleopatra's Moon, by Vicky Alvear ShecterThe 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).

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4 Responses to Review: Cleopatra’s Moon, by Vicky Alvear Shecter (Aug. 2011)

  1. CLM says:

    This sounds like something I would enjoy. I wish my teenage nieces liked historical fiction as much as I did at that age. I need to talk to their librarian (our mutual friend Alice) about this issue.

    • Sam says:

      I didn’t like historical fiction as a kid or a teenager, either. I think because I perceived it as “good for me” — that Newbery medal was the kiss of death. My genre tastes have broadened significantly as an adult. I eventually got that historical fiction had the same high-stakes drama in an unfamiliar society as the fantasy novels I loved; it just happened to be based on fact. Good luck winning over your nieces!

  2. Ivana Curcic says:

    Thank you for your review. I look forward to reading this book but first I have to order it because neither of my libraries has it… I like very much the idea of the explanations in the back in order to keep fiction separate from facts. If one wants more of Cleopatra I highly recommend Cleopatra: A Life by Stacey Schiff, not a young adult book per se but by good for motivated readers.

    • Sam says:

      Thanks! Yeah, it’s interesting that several Cleopatra books came out so close to each other. There was another, I think… oh, right: Carolyn Meyer’s Cleopatra Confesses. Haven’t read that one.

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