Hand of Isis by Jo Graham

(Cover picture courtesy of Orbit Books.)

Charmian is handmaiden to Cleopatra.  She is also an oracle, gifted with ancient memories that may hold the key to preserving Egypt.  Through blood and fire, war and peace, love and death, she will face a desperate struggle that will remake the future of the world.

Cleopatra is one of the most written about figures in history and I’ve rarely seen a new take on her story.  Yet Jo Graham has managed to do this in Hand of Isis by telling the story from the perspective of her half-sister handmaiden, Charmian.  As you can probably guess from the blurb, Charmian has special powers that help her half-sister rule Egypt in a time when only men were rulers and this book is a cross between fantasy and historical fiction.  Yet this mixture of fantasy and history works well because Jo Graham has obviously done her research on the historical events.

The plot is not exactly fast, but it certainly is interesting.  You will learn more about Cleopatra reading this novel than you will from any history textbook out there, I guarantee that.  Jo Graham has paid incredible attention to historical details, so much that I would say not even Pauline Gedge has managed this level of attention to detail.  And that’s really saying something.  Filled with romantic subplots and magic, Hand of Isis will also keep you reading into the early morning hours, even though you probably can guess how the story ends.

Charmian is a very realistic protagonist because like real people, she is full of contradictions.  She is sort of carefree when it comes to love, but at the same time she is responsible because she takes control of some of the governmental functions so Cleopatra is not as overwhelmed.  Cleopatra herself is definitely not the cold-blooded seductress that the Romans and most of history painted her as, but a capable leader who would do anything for her country.  What she, Charmian and Iras sacrifice for Egypt truly is amazing.

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

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