This book seemed like an appropriate way to start my second Cannonball Read because the reviews have been generally good and I heard it compared to I, Claudius, which is my favorite book. Unfortunately I was disappointed. It’s not that Cleopatra’s Daughter is a bad book; it just shouldn’t be compared to I, Claudius.
The story begins in Alexandria, when Cleopatra comes to the realization that she and Marc Antony have lost. After Octavian arrives in Alexandria Cleopatra kills herself, leaving her surviving children in the care of her enemy, who had already killed her son by Julius Caesar. These children, Selene, Alexander, and Ptolemy, are all under 15 and should pose no threat to Octavian’s rule, so he takes them to Rome to be raised by his sister Octavia. Ptolemy falls ill and dies before they reach Rome, adding more trauma for the young twins, who already afraid of their new guardian. They are nervous because Octavia was their father’s wife before he left her for Cleopatra. Luckily, Octavia is an incredibly kind woman who raised equally nice children. She tries to encourage and help them as much as she can without angering her brother.
Soon Selene and Alexander are in school with Octavian’s young relatives, where Selene excels over the other students. Anyone familiar with ancient Roman history will be know these names: Marcellus, Octavia’s son and Octavian’s presumed heir, Julia, Octavian’s only child, and Tiberius, Livia’s son, whom she wants to be there heir. She is also given a unique opportunity for a woman at that time: she gets to apprentice with an architect and expand her love of the subject. Aside from Selene’s adjustment to her new life, she tries to figure out the identity of the Red Eagle—a nobleman seeking to end slavery in Rome.
This was an interesting read, if very predictable. The writing was fine although Selene seemed a little slow sometimes for someone that was supposed to be brilliant. My biggest problem is with how Livia was portrayed—instead of being delightfully evil, she is painted as petty and jealous. That is not the Livia that I want in my historical fiction. But putting my personal preferences aside, the story had moments where it seemed that it would reach I, Claudius levels but it got stuck in kind of a bland historical fiction place (similar to The Other Boleyn Girl but not nearly that bad). I would recommend this if you like ancient Roman fiction and have some time to kill, but don’t go out of your way for it.