But there will be nothing but shame for me, because I must side with the emperor. If Agrippa sees my children as a threat now, he will always see them as a threat. The admiral is a danger to my children and me. The emperor is a danger too but he would defend my children because he believes they are his. So I will side with the emperor as I have always done. There is no escaping it. There is no escape from him, after all.
(from Daughters of the Nile, page 139)
I had been eagerly awaiting the final book in Stephanie Dray’s trilogy about Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony, ever since I devoured the first two books, Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile. But having finished Daughters of the Nile with tears in my eyes, I’m a mess of emotions, which pretty much boil down to the fact that I had grown fond of Selene and wasn’t ready for her story to end. [I wouldn’t consider this a standalone book, so you’ll want to read them in order, and since this is the last book in the trilogy, there could be spoilers in my review for the previous books.]
Daughters of the Nile opens in 19 B.C., with a 20-year-old Selene five years into her marriage to King Juba II and her reign as the Queen of Mauretania. Their marriage is not one based on love; in fact, Selene has long held Juba’s loyalty to the emperor Augustus Caesar and his involvement in her parents’ deaths against him. But she must consummate her marriage to Juba to prove to Augustus that she is another man’s wife, in hopes of ending his obsession with making her his very own Cleopatra. However, it’s not long before Selene is back in Rome, and Augustus seeks to claim both of her children, Princess Isidora and Prince Ptolemy, as his own.
There are so many layers to this novel that it’s hard to summarize it, but Daughters of the Nile is about a mature Selene who comes into her own as a queen and a vessel of the goddess Isis. She knows she will always be in danger so long as Augustus is in power, and she soon realizes the threat her children pose as well — and she will do anything to protect them. While Selene tries to give her children the carefree childhood she never knew and contends with her softening feelings for her husband, she also works to prevent civil war as relations between Augustus and the men closest to him break down, navigates the threats posed by King Herod, insists her children make marriages worthy of their Ptolemaic blood, and longs to know the fate of her twin, Helios.
Dray’s novels remind me why I love historical fiction. You can tell she really does her research, and her attention to detail is amazing. But most of all, I love how she truly brings these characters to life. In this final volume of her life, Selene has paid the price for her desire to reclaim her mother’s kingdom, and now she must distance herself from Augustus. She chooses the kingdom she has built with Juba and fights back against the emperor. Watching Selene’s evolution from the first book to this one is completely captivating, and with the first person narrative, readers get to know her, inside and out. It’s also fascinating to see all the political maneuvering, court intrigue, and how difficult it was for women, who were repeatedly married off and forced to give up their children.
Readers will appreciate Dray’s detailed Author’s Note that separates fact from fiction and explains the choices she made for her story. Dray tells Selene’s story in a clear, powerful voice, with vivid imagery and rich detail. She brilliantly captures both the evil and the humanity in the emperor, and the ongoing dance between the emperor and Selene kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the whole trilogy. Daughters of the Nile is a novel you will want to savor and devour at the same time. I am always fascinated by authors who can take the historical record and give it new life, and that’s exactly what Dray does in this trilogy.
Disclosure: I received Daughters of the Nile from the author and Berkley for review.
© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.