Historical Fiction Book Review – Cleopatra’s Daughter

I go through these phases where I read everything I can on a specific topic or region of the world.

One dark Summer, I read every novel and non-fiction memoir I could find on the Armenian genocide.

Another, I read every gothic horror novel I could get my hands on.

Last Summer, it was death, mystery, and religion in the British countryside.

Way back in 2015, I was spending a WHOOOOLE lot of time mentally in ancient Egypt. It didn’t matter what dynasty, anything Egyptian got devoured by me.

Recently, I’ve been revisiting my Egyptian phase and re-read Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter.

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Here’s the review I wrote on Goodreads the first time around:

Michelle Moran does a remarkable job of recreating ancient Rome after the fall of Egypt, building the intimate relationships that brought the children of Marc Antony and Cleopatra to life.

Selene’s voice is eloquent and pure, full of extremes and her capacity to control her own destiny. With her as the narrator, the story read like a historical peek at the bloody and cruel reign of Augustus through young eyes that understood the world to be anything but good and pure. 

This book struck a deep chord for me as I have always been far more interested in the children of Cleopatra than the great pharaoh herself. I loved getting to know Selene and Alexander, crushed by their defeats and the losses.

It has been a long time since I closed a book after finishing it, sad that I would no longer be able to know more about the people inside.

A masterful recollection from a rare perspective. I recommend it for any lover of ancient historical fiction, especially those that key in on the lives of women. 

This novel still resonates deeply with me, and reading it for the second time was pure joy. In the last four years, characters for my own novels have evolved as a result of learning the history beyond the fiction of this story. One of the most significant characters in my lengthy Sibylline project—Chekka—is based on Mauritanian lineage discovered in the process of curling up in bed with a good book.

I’m not entirely sure where I would be without novels such as this to inspire me to dig deeper into the past, culture, and concepts. Although Moran hasn’t published anything since 2016, I hope she’s got something new in the works as it was rumored that she would be returning to her storytelling roots in Egypt.

Where Are All the Mid-Life Female Protagonists?

So, while browsing Pinterest this morning, I came across a quote that starts, “As I get older . . .” and ends with, “Your late 20s are when you start to figure everything out.”

Late 20’s? Good luck, ladies. Those of us rapidly approaching 50 must report sobering news, we’re still busy trying to figure this life thing out.

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By Brené Brown

Which leads me to another inquiry. . .

If my experience with women all around me moving through their 40s and 50s is any indication, mid-life marks the most profound transformation period of a woman’s life. Yet, I cannot even recall a novel I have read (and that is a whole heckin lot of them) in which the female protagonist strays much beyond twenty-five.

Where are all the mid-life female protagonists?

It’s a big question, people.

Women of my generation need voices of our generation in fiction, particularly in genre fiction such as SFF and historical fiction. Rarely do I find myself in a story where I can relate to the 18-year-old heroine figuring out her life for the first time. I long for characters in which women redeem themselves, come out, or come into their gifts in the middle of their lives instead of having to get divorced and have the whole story revolve around being broken down by a man who left them for, you guessed it, an eighteen-year-old.

We’re dealing with major issues—waking up to the misogyny, homophobia, and racism that permeated our youths; watching our kids cope with tech that exploits them; our own raging hormones and bodies betraying us; careers that were marginalized while we raised children and now we are struggling to reclaim. Many of us desperately wonder what’s realistic to attempt in that reclamation, if we have the time to start over and pursue dreams, if regret will be the devil that derails any enthusiasm.

Yet, we remain under-represented in literature, film, TV. Yes, we show up, but not as leads. What is it about women reaching the middle of their lives that keeps their stories relegated to supporting roles?

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A friend’s response, “A woman at forty or fifty has reached the age that men fear the most—the age of sovereignty.”

Hmmm.

“So go write one,” you shout at the computer screen.

That’s the plan.

Elijah Gale in my WIP Woman On The Wall is 43. She’s got some business to deal with and some life to figure out and the women around her reflect that too. She’s been hammered by her own giant ego, her fear of being ostracized, and a life that has gone sideways. These are the kind of women I want to see in fiction—battle-worn, searching, dealing with their own shadows.

What do you think?  What kind of mid-life badass women of fiction would you like to see in the pages of the next novel you read?