Posts Tagged ‘stephanie dray’

daughters of the nile

Source: Review copy from author/Berkley
Rating: ★★★★★

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.

historical fiction challenge

Book 4 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

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.

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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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“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.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Lily 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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I am very excited to welcome Stephanie Dray to Diary of an Eccentric today.  Stephanie is the author of Lily of the Nile, a novel about Cleopatra’s daughter, Princess Selene, which will be released in January.  I am anxiously awaiting my review copy, but in the meantime, Stephanie has dropped by to discuss patriotism as it relates to Cleopatra and her daughter.  Please give a warm welcome to Stephanie Dray.

Cleopatra and Patriotism
by Stephanie Dray

In my forthcoming debut novel, Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra’s Daughter, my heroine is an Egyptian patriot. At the age of ten, when her parents committed suicide, she was taken prisoner and marched through Rome in chains. Though she would survive these horrors to become the Queen of Mauretania, she never forgot Egypt. So where did she come by her sense of patriotism?

The English may perhaps be forgiven their belief that they invented patriotism because the term is said to have first been coined in the Elizabethan Era. However, patriotism as a personal feeling and political tool is something far older and embraced by no lesser personage than Cleopatra VII of Egypt.

The word patriotism itself finds its root from the Greek patriōtēs. Both the ancient Greeks and the Romans had a strong notion of attachment to their fellow citizens, to their cultural identities, and sometimes to their homelands. The Romans, in particular, made highly effective use of national honor to persuade their soldiers to shun personal battle glory in favor of collective might. On their rise to super power status in the ancient world the Roman Republic frequently called upon its citizenry not simply as clans and coalitions but by their collective identity as Romans.

Roman patriotism could also be turned to more sinister purposes and this lesson was probably not lost upon Cleopatra VII who took two Roman generals as lovers.

Because the famed Queen of the Nile has been so often misrepresented as a product of more ancient Egyptian tradition, depicted in full Pharaonic regalia as if she stepped out of a Middle Kingdom tomb, modern scholars trip over themselves to remind us all that she was primarily a Hellenistic queen. But Cleopatra VII was not only a Hellenistic queen; her relationship with Egypt and its native citizens was decidedly more complicated.

Because of the Ptolemaic practice of brother-sister marriage, historians can account for almost all of Cleopatra’s ancestors, pure-blooded Macedonians. However, Cleopatra’s mother is not known. Ptolemaic scholar Gunther Holbl has theorized that the queen may have descended, on her mother’s side, from an Egyptian priestly family. This theory has also been adopted by Professor Duane W. Roller who writes in his recent scholarly biography with the Oxford University Press, “Cleopatra VII, then, was perhaps three-quarters Macedonian and one-quarter Egyptian, and it was probably her half-Egyptian mother who instilled in her the knowledge and respect for Egyptian culture and civilization that had eluded her predecessor Ptolemies, including an ability to speak the Egyptian language.”

Whether she learned the language because it accounted for part of her heritage or simply because it was politically expedient, the fact remains that she was the first member of her dynasty to do so. Whereas her predecessors sometimes seem to have considered themselves as the rulers of Alexandria, Cleopatra took a more expansive view of her country. She traveled extensively in her kingdom and showed great respect to the indigenous religions. She funded temples of the native Egyptian goddess Hathor and attended the burial rites for the Apis Bull–something which would later be used against her in a propaganda war that attempted to present her as an exotic, foreign Oriental who worshipped beasts and dabbled in magic.

Certainly, Cleopatra’s official portraits–the ones she wanted to be seen internationally–depict a thoroughly Macedonian-Greek queen, with the symbolic diadem and melon coiffure. However, Cleopatra was a known lover of costumes. She’s noted for having dressed on occasion as an incarnation of Isis. Because Isis had been thoroughly embraced by the Greeks and equated with Aphrodite, this may not have been an Egyptian costume. On the other hand, Cleopatra may well have adopted native dress on special occasions to appeal to her subjects.

While one must view with skepticism all the propaganda leveled by her enemies portraying her as a sensualist and painted Egyptian whore, there was some degree of cultural fusion in Alexandria, and when not dressing to impress the international community of Greeks, Cleopatra may well have adopted some forms of native Egyptian adornment. For example, heavy black eye-liner and wigs were often adopted by non-native Egyptians for their practicality. Kohl was thought to protect eyes from disease and the effects of the sun. Wigs helped prevent the rampant spread of lice in the ancient world.

Whether or not the queen actually dressed in the traditional garb of Egypt, wearing the double-crown and carrying the crook and flail of a Pharaoh, is less important than the fact that she was not shy about being portrayed this way. This is why all the misleading iconography depicting Cleopatra as a sandy-skinned temptress wearing transparent linen is still relevant to any discussion of her. As numerous statues and carvings attest, Cleopatra sought to forge a bond with her countrymen as Egyptians on either side of the cultural divide. The best evidence for the queen’s patriotism is a remarkable action she took just prior to the war with Octavian.

For most of her life, the queen was known as Cleopatra VII Philopater to show respect and love for her father. But in the last years of her life she adopted the title of Philopatris in which she declared a love of her country. Michel Chauveau writes, “With this single word, she erased centuries of foreign occupation: It was no longer a right born of the Macedonian conquest that established her royalty over Egypt, but rather a strong attachment, a quasi-mystical bond with the land of the Nile and all who dwelled in it, whatever their origin.[1]”

Cleopatra may have embraced patriotism as a political tool or these sentiments may have been entirely heartfelt. Because she lost the war, we will simply never know, but Roller’s biography of the queen suggests that Egypt was always foremost on her mind and that Romans ignored this at their peril.

[1]If, as is argued by Jean Bingen and Roger S. Bagnell, the adoption of this title was actually meant to stir a warm feeling in the breasts of all the Hellenes who might flock to her cause as a Ptolemy, it does not lessen the import of the title.

About the Author

Stephanie Dray is the author of a forthcoming trilogy of historical fiction novels set in the Augustan Age, starting with Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra’s Daughter. 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.

She is currently sponsoring the Cleopatra Literary Contest for Young Women, the deadline for which is March 1, 2011, but join her newsletter now for updates and a chance to win a free copy of Lily of the Nile and additional prizes.

Thanks, Stephanie!  I am very much looking forward to reading Lily of the Nile.

You can follow Stephanie around the blogs!  Click here to view the Lily of the Nile tour dates.

Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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