Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

Genre: historical fiction; Egyptian
Pages: 368 (paperback)
Published: January 2011 by Berkley Trade
Recommended for: readers who enjoy reading history as told from the womens' point of view and fellow Egyptian-philes especially.

Heiress of one empire and prisoner of another, it is up to the daughter of Cleopatra to save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers... 

To Isis worshipers, Princess Selene and her twin brother Helios embody the divine celestial pair who will bring about a Golden Age. But when Selene's parents are vanquished by Rome, her auspicious birth becomes a curse. Trapped in an empire that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, the young messianic princess struggles for survival in a Roman court of intrigue. She can't hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her hands, nor can she stop the emperor from using her powers for his own ends. But faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined to resurrect her mother's dreams. Can she succeed where her mother failed? And what will it cost her in a political game where the only rule is win-or die?

My Take: 

Lily of the Nile was a book which captivated my attention as soon as I discovered it.  Last year I read and absolutely loved Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran and this novel immediately called out to me as a read-alike.  But although both Michelle Moran's book and Lily of the Nile tell the seldom-told story of Cleopatra Selene, the infamous Cleopatra VII's daughter who was brought to Rome by her mother's conquerors, I was pleasantly surprised by the way author Stephanie Dray made the world as ruled by the Roman Empire her own and through Selene gave this exciting time in history so many new and fascinating dimensions (not to mention storylines).

Cleopatra Selene and her twin brother Alexander Helios are revered as saviors in Egypt, where they study and thrive as kings and queens, the crown children of the ambitious Queen Cleopatra VII and her Roman lover Marcus Antony.  But when Egypt is conquered by their parents' Roman enemies and their mother kills herself to avoid capture, Selene and her brothers are taken to Rome and marched in chains.  Selene is forced to adjust to a Roman world of politics and deception where women are married at a young age and treated as little better than manicured slaves.  But even Augustus Caesar, great emperor of Rome, cannot drive Egypt-- and the mark of her beloved goddess, Isis-- from Selene.

Cleopatra is without a doubt one of the most intriguing and best-known 'bad girls' of ancient history.  She has only a brief part in Lily of the Nile, but in many ways Selene learns to harness the cleverness and charm (and occasional brutality) of her mother as she navigates treacherous Roman politics and must hide her contempt for tradition while struggling to maintain her faith in Isis.  I loved Selene as a character and absolutely cannot wait to see how she grows and becomes more powerful, as history promises, in the sequel Song of the Nile.  Stephanie Dray has taken several liberties with Selene's story that other historical fiction writers have not, and personally I really enjoyed her alternative (and sometimes actually plausible) take on Selene's brothers Helios and Philadelphus.  In Moran's book, the brothers both perished with little influence on the world of their conquerors, but here Alexander Helios is as fiery and indomitable as his sun god namesake.  Rebellion sparks up around his character, infuriating Rome even as Selene struggles to make peace with the emperor.  I also loved the book's portrayal of other historical figures like Augustus/Octavian, his sister Octavia, Prince Juba, and the Roman general Agrippa.

Perhaps the biggest twist of all is the Egyptian magic (heka) which blazes within Selene even as she doubts her faith in Isis and is a prisoner in Rome.  Hieroglyphics emblazon themselves in her own blood and magic and danger lurk in the form of the Isiatic Cult who wish to make Selene and Helios the messiahs of their Golden Age even as Egypt and her influence seem to be falling.  I swear, I'm such a history geek(and a book geek, but you all know that;), and really could rave about Lily of the Nile all day.  But I'll do my best to sum the book up in two-words: Must.  Read.

Overall Rating: 5/5 all around

Heads-up: Author Stephanie Dray will be making an appearance at A Myriad of Books for an interview about Lily of the Nile, her writing, and all those intriguing, wacky people of ancient history sometime in the near future.  Be sure to check out the interview!

1 comment:

Bridleless said...

Oh this sounds so good. Great review - makes me want to read it for sure. Thanks Kat. I've been looking for a good Egyptian book!!

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