Monday, August 19, 2013

Song of the Nile

I was excited to read this book by Stephanie Dray, a new author for me, about Queen Cleopatra's daughter Selene.  I had read about her before in Michelle Moran's Cleopatra's Daughter.  Therefore I chose to skip her first novel Lily of the Nile where Selene is taken from Egypt after her parent's death, and taken to Rome as a trophy with her brothers.  I don't have much time to read, so I wanted to read something new about her.  This book follows Selene from Rome to Mauritania, where she is finally made a Queen and marries Juba, her childhood scholar.  They build their palace and a lighthouse to look like Alexandria, or what she remembers of it.  Selene's mother Cleopatra had killed herself with a snake bite after Octavian's armies invaded.  Her mother was famous both for her beauty, ambition and wit but also for her relationships with Julias Caesar and Marc Antony, her father.  Selene was a Ptolemaic princess, of Greek and Rome heritage. Her fraternal twin Helios by this point had disappeared, many assumed dead.  Selene had one last surviving brother, Philadelphius.  He was being kept back in Rome as a sort of blackmail for her good will. 

It was the emperor's sister Octavia that had convinced Octavian to let them live and raised them with other orphans.  Her kindness had spared Selene's life but not those of her other brothers.  Octavian had a fantasy of having his own Cleopatra, and seems to have had an obsession with Selene.  Selene also was smart and played her cards well; she pledged her loyalty to Augustus aka Octavian.  In Mauritania, Selene makes herself a capable ruler.  She brings about great harvest for Rome and wants to build a temple to her god, Isis.  She has a daughter not long after and in the book it is Augustus's baby, forced on her before she left Rome with her new husband.  It seems her relationship with Juba was platonic for some time, and she ruled capably without him when he traveled. 

Throughout the novel she is obsessed with finding her twin Helios, and of having Augustus restore her to Egypt's throne as Queen.  She wants to live for her dead parents and siblings, for the Ptolemaic dynasty.  She visits Augustus in Rome a few times, hoping he will grant her her greatest wish.  Along the way, she decides she is happy to be Queen of Mauritania, where her daughter was born and where Juba is.  She finally returns to reign with Juba, and they reconcile and make a son together.  Isis is a central belief to her; she was worshipped as the ideal mother and wife, and patroness of magic and nature.  Isis is often depicted as the mother of Horus, the hawk-headed god of war and protection.  Her headdress was a throne and she listened to the prayers of all. Selene sees her brother but whether in spirit or the flesh isn't clear.  She remains allies with Rome and they name their capital Caesarea.  She went by Cleopatra Selene and had many coins minted with images of her choice.  She isn't well written about, probably fading in the background after her mother. 

My Thoughts:  By the time Selene married Juba II of Numidia, she was actually the last living sibling.  Helios and Philadelphius were already dead, but in the book the author chose a different viewpoint.  The bond between twins is strong, as it shows in this book with Selene and Helios.  She feels him when he is near and sees him on several occasions.  After such powerful and well known parents, and such a tragic end, I'm not surprised Selene's life seems to have faded in history.  I'm sure her deepest desire was to return to Egypt and be restored to her parent's throne, but it seems she created a kingdom of her own in Mauritania where hopefully she was happy.  She seems to have known how to play Augustus, becoming his ally and living safe fully with a generous dowry.  She must have had some of her parent's spirit to have made it through what she did.  I enjoyed the book, but the worship of Isis and the parts where she displayed her magic were a bit sci fi for me.  Overall though, a great book that I would recommend.  I look forward to her next one in the series.


  1. It sounds good! I will have to put it on hold :-) By the way, you are a really good writer! I love reading your reviews

  2. Wow, thanks! It was your idea for me to start this blog:) So props to you:)