Posts Tagged ‘song of the nile’

I shook my head violently.  “No, that wasn’t the emperor’s plan.  He sent me with you to –“

“To get you out of the way.  You were a dangerous girl to have in Rome where Isis worshippers invoked you as their champion.  A dangerous girl to have in the East where your parents still have allies and friends.  A daughter of Antony was too dangerous to keep in Rome, a daughter of Cleopatra too dangerous in the East.  So he sent you here, to Mauretania, to the other side of the world.”

Distraught, I brought my hands to my face and Juba’s hard expression crumbled, as if he regretted saying these things to me.  Tears spilled over my lashes.  “I don’t understand.  The emperor promised mercy for Egypt.  Mercy for Helios.  The emperor promised me.  He gave me his vow.”

Juba reached for my chin, cupping it tenderly.  “Oh, my poor Selene, you actually thought you could save him.” 

(from Song of the Nile, pages 88-89)

Song of the Nile is the second book in Stephanie Dray’s trilogy about Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony, and it picks up right where Lily of the Nile leaves off.  Selene is just 14 years old when Emperor Octavian marries her off to Juba, deposed Prince of Numidia and her former tutor.  He has pronounced them king and queen of Mauretania, but Selene doesn’t plan to sit quietly by her husband’s side.  Getting Octavian to name her Queen of Egypt and give her back her birthright is the only thing on her mind.

Juba and Selene’s marriage is rocky from the beginning; whatever tender feelings she had for him disappeared as soon as she found out that he participated in the war that led to her parents’ suicides.  Juba appears to actually care for Selene, but the emperor’s obsession with making Selene his very own Cleopatra, her fixation on Egypt, and her concern for her missing twin, Helios, all stand in the way of them finding happiness as husband and wife.

When they arrive in Mauretania, Selene demands that she be allowed to attend council meetings and inserts herself into political matters.  The local tribesman don’t always see eye-to-eye, and they don’t appreciate the Romans trampling all over their property, stealing their grain, and trying to change their way of life.  Selene really comes into her own as queen, understanding the importance of helping the people and earning their love.  She learns to master the magical powers granted to her through Isis for the good of her people, and she makes an effort to learn what is important to them.  She and Juba undertake improvements that not only enable Rome to reap the benefits of a new port city but also help the people of Mauretania.

However, the emperor always lurks in the background.  Selene finds herself at his beck and call, and she tries to use the power she has over him to her advantage.  However, her willingness to do whatever it takes to become Queen of Egypt could destroy her.  In telling Selene’s story in the first person, Dray does a great job probing the depths of her grief and despair.  There is darkness in Selene, and her past hurts and her ambition prevent her from enjoying the blessings that life has given her.  At times, it’s hard to like Selene, but when I thought about all that she endured and how her every movement was watched and even controlled by the emperor, I was able to understand her more.  She embarks on a relationship that our society wouldn’t accept, but it wasn’t unusual for her time or culture, and Dray presents it in a way that seems believable and even sacred.

To fully enjoy and appreciate Song of the Nile, it’s best to start with Lily of the Nile, which was an excellent beginning to this captivating trilogy.  So much of Selene’s history is unknown, but Dray fills in the missing gaps in a logical manner, and she brings to life the ancient world and gives a voice to an intriguing, strong young woman.  Song of the Nile is a coming-of-age story of sorts, in which Selene must use her wits, beauty, and heritage to secure her future.  Along the way, she finds out what it means to love and the true meaning of home.  I am anxiously awaiting the final book in the trilogy!

Disclosure: I received a copy of Song of the Nile from the author and Berkley/Penguin for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Stephanie Dray is the author of two novels (with the last in the trilogy yet to come) about Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s daughter, Selene, who was dragged through Rome in chains with her brothers after their parents’ suicide and eventually became the Queen of Mauretania.  Stay tuned for my upcoming reviews of Lily of the Nile (Amazon/IndieBound), published earlier this year, and her most recent book, Song of the Nile (Amazon/IndieBound).  Please give a warm welcome to Stephanie Dray, whom I’d like to thank for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions.

What inspired you to devote so much time to researching and writing about Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s daughter, Selene?

I was really inspired by the story of a little girl who was orphaned and taken away from the only home she’d ever known, marched through the streets as a captive prisoner, and raised by the very people who killed her family.  That she was able to carve a future for herself out of that horrific past, by endearing herself to her parents’ enemies and keeping quiet about her true feelings, is a testament to her strength. However, it also meant that she was deprived of a true voice most of her life, and I wanted to give a voice back to her.

What is one thing most people don’t know or get wrong about Cleopatra and/or Selene?

Cleopatra VII is known as the last of the Ptolemaic queens. She wasn’t; her daughter Selene was. Also, Cleopatra VII was known as the last Queen of Egypt. That honor probably goes to Queen Zenobia, who may have been a descendant of Selene’s.

Why do you think Selene is so popular in literature at the moment?  What do you think makes your books stand out from the rest?

I’m not sure why everyone seems to have discovered Selene around the same time — it might have something to do with Margaret George, whose marvelous book seemed to work through the collective consciousness of the culture. We all want to think that Cleopatra’s legacy wasn’t lost. That’s where Cleopatra Selene comes in. My novels stand out because they’re soaked in magical realism. For the ancients, magic was real, so when Isis speaks to Cleopatra Selene through bloody hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her hands, I think there’s a certain authentic mysticism that brings to my novels.

What do you think about the comparisons between your books and Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter?

I’m honored by any such comparisons. Michelle Moran is a fantastic author and a classy woman!

Are you working on another novel?  Any hints as to what it’s about?

Currently, I’m working on the third and final installment of the trilogy about Cleopatra Selene’s life. It will follow her life as a more mature and powerful queen and explore her unique viewpoint of the imperial family during some of its most tumultuous days.

What are the best books you’ve read recently?

I’ve been on a Ken Follett kick lately — so Pillars of the Earth, World Without End and Fall of Giants have consumed me.  For (slightly) lighter historical fare, however, I’ve also recently enjoyed Kate Quinn’s Daughters of Rome and Jeannie Lin’s historical romance, The Dragon and the Pearl.

Thanks, Stephanie!  I can’t wait to read the last book about Cleopatra Selene!

About Stephanie Dray

Stephanie graduated with a degree in Government from Smith, a small women’s college in Massachusetts where–to the consternation of her devoted professors–she was unable to master Latin. However, her focus on Middle Eastern Studies gave her a deeper understanding of the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion.

Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

About Song of the Nile

Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra’s daughter has become the emperor’s most unlikely apprentice and the one woman who can destroy his empire…

Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land.

Forced to marry a man of the emperor’s choosing, Selene will not allow her new husband to rule in her name. She quickly establishes herself as a capable leader in her own right and as a religious icon. Beginning the hard work of building a new nation, she wins the love of her new subjects and makes herself vital to Rome by bringing forth bountiful harvests.

But it’s the magic of Isis flowing through her veins that makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra’s daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother’s throne be more than she’s willing to pay?

Disclosure: I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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