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The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

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Random House, Crown Publishers
(Paperback, 464 pages)
# ISBN-10: 0307409139
# ISBN-13: 978-0307409133

 

The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

From the Reviewers

Library Journal, Starred Review
Thanks to William Shakespeare, Richard Burton, and Elizabeth Taylor, nearly everyone in the Western world is familiar with the tragic tale of Marc Antony and Cleopatra. But the story of their children is less well known. In Moran's third historical novel (after Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen), narrator Kleopatra Selene and her twin brother, Alexander, are just ten years old when Egypt falls to the armies of Octavian and their parents commit suicide rather than submit to the humiliation of Roman rule. The surviving three children, Selene, Alexander, and Ptolemy, are taken to Rome to prevent them from ever rising to power and challenging Rome. Though Ptolemy doesn't survive the sea voyage, his older siblings are adopted into the household of Octavia, Octavian's sister. Here, amid the turmoil of Rome torn apart by external warfare and internal conflict and living under the cloud of their parentage, the children learn to navigate the political and societal eddies into which they have been tossed. VERDICT Dramatic, engrossing, and beautifully written, this is essential reading, and Moran is definitely an author to watch.
Jane Henriksen Baird

Boston Globe
"Moran skillfully weaves into her latest book plenty of political history and detail without ever weighing down the story, which is fast-paced, intriguing, and beautifully written... a subplot about a mysterious "Red Eagle'' who is trying to incite a slave rebellion is riveting... In Cleopatra's Daughter, she once again demonstrates her talent for taking long-forgotten historical figures and bringing them vividly to life."

Publishers Weekly
Moran’s latest foray into the world of classical history (after The Heretic Queen) centers upon the children of Marc Antony and Cleopatra . After the death of their parents, twins Alexander and Selene and younger brother Ptolemy are in a dangerous position, left to the mercy of their father’s greatest rival, Octavian Caesar. However, Caesar does not kill them as expected, but takes the trio to Rome to be paraded as part of his triumphant return and to demonstrate his solidified power. As the twins adapt to life in Rome in the inner circle of Caesar’s family, they grow into adulthood ensconced in a web of secrecy, intrigue and constant danger. Told from Selene’s perspective, the tale draws readers into the fascinating world of ancient Rome and into the court of Rome’s first and most famous emperor. Deftly encompassing enough political history to provide context, Moran never clutters her narrative with extraneous facts. Readers may be frustrated that Selene is more observer than actor, despite the action taking place around her, but historical fiction enthusiasts will delight in this solid installment from a talented name in the genre.

Romantic Times Book Reviews
Images of the ill-fated love between Cleopatra and Mark Antony immediately leap to mind when readers see this title, but Moran imagines what their daughter, Selene, experiences after her parents' suicides. The tale brims over with rich details of Roman life, historical personages and political turmoil. Add the coming-of-age aspect and you have a novel that will appeal to readers on many levels.

Chicago Sun-Times
A solidly researched history lesson ... the book is a satisfying blend of romance, intrigue and fascinating historical fact. Cleopatra’s daughter may not share her mother’s renown, but Selene’s own life story is also worth surviving through the centuries.
Allecia Vermillion

Fredrickburg
Cleopatra's Daughter is Michelle Moran's captivating historical romance based on the largely forgotten story of Cleopatra Selene, the only daughter of Marc Antony and Cleopatra... If you're a fan of historical romance, or just love the time period in which the book is set, Cleopatra's Daughter is sure to please.
Cathy Jett

Lancashire Evening Post
No sooner has Cleopatra's heartbroken daughter witnessed the tragic queen's death from an asp bite than she is thrown into another nest of vipers... And the "snakes" which the beautiful Selene encounters in Rome are just as cold-blooded and deadly as the one that killed her mother in Egypt.

Moran's third novel in her scorching series about the heroes and villains of the ancient world proves she is fast becoming one of the best historical novelists around. Brimming with authentic period detail and steeped in Roman history which has captured imaginations for centuries, this is the brilliantly woven story of the orphaned children of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. And Moran really knows her stuff... she sticks meticulously to the facts and in between creates a compelling and intelligent tale of romance, passion, betrayal and intrigue.

Cleopatra's captive ten-year-old twins Alexander and Selene survive the sea crossing from Alexandria to Rome where they are paraded in public to mark the return of the conqueror Octavian. Homesick and still reeling from the death of their parents, they are lodged with the emperor's sister Octavia and educated Roman style with her own children.

Alexander, practical and pliant, knows he must at least give the appearance of co-operation but Selene, defiant and suspicious, is wary of everything in this alien world. She fears both the citizens and their crowded and disorganised city— a seething mass of kilns, markets, temples and stinking laundries.

There are distractions of course... her artistic gifts, her training as an architect and a growing friendship with the handsome young man tipped to be Octavian's heir. But loves and rivalries on glittering Palatine hill are overshadowed by the elusive Red Eagle, a mysterious revolutionary who is causing mayhem and murder in Rome. In a city where a third of the population are slaves, the Red Eagle wants the powerful Senate to rise up and bring an end to servitude... but the desperate hunt for him puts the twins' lives in mortal danger.

Moran peoples her novels with all those famous names we have met on the pages of books from Plutarch to Shakespeare and puts flesh on their dry old bones. And with the help of a time line, glossary, maps of Rome and the empire and even an historical note on the fate of her characters, Cleopatra's Daughter is probably the most entertaining history book you are likely to find.
Pam Norfolk

England's Daily Express
Cleopatra's Daughter opens in Alexandria in 30 BC, as the curtain falls on the era of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Feared and hunted by the powers in Rome, the lovers commit suicide as the triumphant armies of Antony’s vengeful rival Octavian sweep into Egypt. Their three orphaned children are taken in chains to Rome but only two— the 10-year-old twins Selene and Alexander— survive.

Narrated by Selene, this is the story of how they confront their loss and adapt to their new lives. Octavian is greeted with a hero’s welcome and the twins are paraded in front of the public during the victory celebrations. Grieving and homesick they are desperate to return to Egypt.

But Octavian has other plans. He houses the children with his sister Octavia. The former wife of their father Mark Antony, Octavia provides a welcoming home for the orphans. They are educated alongside the children of Octavia, Octavian and other Roman dignitaries. As they grudgingly adapt the siblings learn about life and love and cling to the hope that they will return one day to their rightful place on the throne of Egypt.

Meanwhile all is not well in the corridors of power. There are rumblings of an uprising as a phantom rebel called the Red Eagle stirs up public anger, calling for an end to slavery and questioning the injustices of Rome’s rulers. Rumours abound and everyone is desperate to unmask the elusive agitator.

Through her meticulous research Moran, a rising star in the world of historical fiction, has drawn a vivid picture of the horrors and glories of life in ancient Rome. As Selene learns about life in the city, so does the reader. Helpfully Moran includes a timeline a map, a glossary and a cast of characters – almost all of whom are based on real people. The Red Eagle himself is based on a number of men who led slave revolts against the Romans.

Selene ends her tale aged 15 and if her observations sometimes seem wise beyond her years, Moran explains in an historical note: “If Selene and Alexander seem incredibly precocious for their ages that is because they were the extremely well-educated children of a queen considered to be one of the most learned women of her time… they would have been raised in an adult world with adult expectations.” This is an intelligent historical novel which, like Moran’s previous two titles— Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen— draws you in from the outset.
Lianne Kolirin

Booklist
The current trend among writers of historical fiction is to rescue minor historical characters from virtual oblivion, reinvigorating their sketchy legends with an irresistible blend of drama, passion, and intrigue. In her latest fictional biography, Moran (Nefertiti (2007) and The Heretic Queen (2009)) jumps firmly on the bandwagon with a fictional biography of a second-tier subject: Cleopatra and Marc Antony’s daughter, Selene. Taken to Rome in chains by Octavian Caesar, Selene, together with her twin, Alexander, and her younger brother Ptolemy, must adapt to Roman customs and culture in order to survive in a court rife with rivalries and political conspiracies. As Selene narrates the times and the tenor of her new life, one of the headiest and most intoxicating eras in ancient history is authentically and vividly brought to life.
Margaret Flanagan

Independent Weekly (UK edition)
Look past the cover showing the eponymous Princess Selene looking more icily Scandinavian than spicily half-Greek/half-Roman and you will find a very readable historical novel with many interesting and well-researched insights into Rome at the time of the ascendency of Octavian.

The situation is set up in the opening chapters with Octavian’s army descending on Egypt and with the 11-year-old Selene and her twin brother Alexander (the last of the Ptolemies, descended from Alexander the Great) awaiting their fate. Their father, Marc Antony, appears in advance of the invaders, asks for a cup of wine, then runs himself through with a sword. Cleopatra waits around long enough to see that she can seduce neither Agrippa nor Octavian, then clasps the famous adder to her breast: the kids are at Octavian’s mercy.

When they are taken to Rome, the real business of the novel opens up. Selene is still a girl and looks at the primitive excesses of Rome with the righteous eyes of her Egyptian cultural perspective. Seven leopards are released in the amphitheatre to fight with gladiators and Alexander is astonished “…they are sacred in Egypt. We don’t kill them for meat, and certainly not for entertainment.”

The danger of life in Rome is well exposed through the constant slave unrest. As part of their ludus, the children must attend a trial at which all 200 of one domine’s slaves are to be executed in reprisal for his murder. And skating across her moral disapprobrium is Selene’s awareness that she is a beautiful and well-educated young woman of much value as a future bride to some senator.

A 16-year-old Ovid recites poetry in the Odeum. Livy and Vergil make appearances. A teenage Tiberius sniffs disapprovingly at everything around him, 40 or so years before he becomes Octavian’s unlikely successor. The fractious relationship between Octavian’s wife Livia and sister Octavia is beautifully exploited. Roman birthing practices, the rights of fathers and the fate of foundlings all receive vigorous treatment.

And the plot? Who is the mysterious Red Eagle, a Scarlet Pimpernel type who bobs up through the novel as a champion of slave rights? What will happen to Selene when she turns the marriageable age of 15? And will an adult Alexander be too much of a threat to Rome to be allowed to live? All is revealed in the exciting last chapter.
Robert Horne

Advance Praise

"The story I always wanted to read! If you love I, Claudius, you'll love this book!"
—Margaret George, NYT bestselling author of The Memoirs of Cleopatra

"Michelle Moran has already made Ancient Egypt her own fictional domain. With this compelling novel of the legendary Cleopatra's daughter, she now stakes a claim to Ancient Rome, too."
—Sharon Kay Penman, NYT bestselling author of Devil's Brood

"From the tragic fall of Cleopatra's Alexandria to the treacherous hills of Imperial Rome, Michelle Moran spins a captivating tale of the daughter of Egypt's most famous queen, a princess whose courageous determination to survive is as exciting and dramatic as the time in which she lived."
—C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen

"Cleopatra's Daughter is historical fiction at its finest. With her exquisite attention to detail and her beautifully-crafted characters, Michelle Moran does not just visit the past— she resurrects it."
—Deanna Raybourn, Rita-award winning author of the Lady Julia Grey Series

"No one captures the immediacy and rich detail of the ancient world quite like Michelle Moran. We are swept along with Cleopatra's children on their tumultuous journey, ripped from their home and thrust headlong into that most glittering and violent of cities— Octavian's Rome. Using their wits and still-developing talents they must navigate the treacherous currents of Imperial politics and poisonous high society to survive another day and find their place in history."
—Robin Maxwell, bestselling author of Signora da Vinci

   
Read Michelle Moran's Blog, History Buff.