“I don’t feel magic here in Rome. I don’t. We haven’t been to a Temple of Isis in so long I can barely remember what one looks like, and she sends me no more messages. She’s forgotten us.”
“She hasn’t forgotten us,” Helios said sternly, his faith so black and white in my world of gray. “But if we don’t try, people might forget her.”
Looking into my twin’s emerald eyes, I saw the green waters of the Nile and the beckoning light of the Pharos lighthouse. I remembered the camels and the merchants, the palm trees, the spices, and the pyramids — Wonders of the World built thousands of years before I was even born. I remembered the night calls of the frogs and the silky feel of the desert sand slipping through my fingers. But I was still in Rome and there was no getting around that fact.
(from Lily of the Nile, page 201)
In Lily of the Nile, Stephanie Dray brings to life the story of Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony. Selene and her twin brother, Alexander Helios, were born in 40 B.C., the moon and the sun, and many believed they were to be Saviors. Ten years later, the emperor Octavian — who wants to be called Caesar and elevated to the level of a god — has defeated Egypt, their parents have committed suicide, and Selene, Helios, and their younger brother, Philadelphus, are dragged through the streets of Rome in chains.
Before Cleopatra killed herself, she gave her children important gifts. She gave Philadelphus her sight, and he has the ability to see things that have not yet happened and things that will never come to pass as the Rivers of Time change course. She gives Helios her power, and he proves himself to be strong under the weight of Octavian’s reign. Cleopatra gives her daughter her spirit, calling her the Resurrection, and Selene becomes the vessel through which the goddess Isis makes herself heard.
When in Octavian’s presence for the first time, Selene begs him to spare their lives, and they soon become a member of the emperor’s household, his mercy granted solely to elevate himself among the people. She and her brothers live with Octavia, one of their father’s previous wives, and a handful of half-siblings. While Helios remains angry and contemplates a way for them to escape and return to Egypt, where he will rule as king with Selene by his side, Selene questions her faith in Isis and the memory of her mother. She befriends Julia, Octavian’s daughter, and Juba, the deposed Prince of Numidia who serves as their tutor. An attraction develops between Selene and Juba, whose circumstances are very similar to her own, and she believes him when he says she should use her situation to her advantage.
Although Selene submits to Octavian’s will and appears to become more Roman with each passing day, she has not forgotten Isis or Egypt. She learns the power of magic when hieroglyphics bearing the words of Isis are painfully carved into her arms and then disappear, leaving nothing but the stain of her blood. And she begins to realize the power she wields with the emperor, given his obsession with Cleopatra.
Having loved Cleopatra’s Daughter, Michelle Moran’s take on Selene’s story, I was very curious to see how Lily of the Nile would compare. The two novels are fairly similar with regard to the history that is known about Selene, and like Moran, Dray definitely has done her homework. However, there are differences, so don’t think you’ll be reading the same novel again! The biggest difference is that Dray concentrates on the magical, but she also has a different take on the fate of Selene’s brothers. It’s been a long time since I read Moran’s novel, but I don’t remember her focusing as much on the tension between Selene and Helios and the darker aspects of Selene’s soul as she wrestles with her new life in Rome.
I very much enjoyed Lily of the Nile, as I am fascinated with Selene’s story. Dray does a great job getting into her head, and readers will feel her anger and her confusion. It’s hard to imagine losing both of your parents so tragically, then being forced to renounce your faith and put the only life you’ve known behind you for good. There were times she was uncertain of her fate, having to weigh every thought, every spoken word, and every action and wonder whether they would prompt the emperor to end her life. And it couldn’t have been easy for her to hear the mother she loved so much called a whore and not be able to do anything to defend the honor of her parents.
Lily of the Nile is a moving portrait of a young woman wise beyond her years who is called to rise above her pain to honor the legacy of her mother and the country that still lives within her. Cleopatra hung a banner in her room that stated simply “Win or Die,” and that banner hangs over her daughter’s head and guides her every movement. Dray has given a voice to a powerful woman who, like her mother, has no plans of sitting on the sidelines. The scenery and the magic combine with Dray’s brilliant characterizations of some of history’s most intriguing figures to create a story that I found hard to put down.
Lily of the Nile is the first of a trilogy, taking readers from Selene’s birth to just before her marriage. The end left me wanting more simply because I was so fascinated and captivated with Selene that I wasn’t ready to let her go, but even though it’s obvious that Selene’s story is not finished, I felt it was a satisfying and exciting conclusion that also paves the way for the next book.
© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.