Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray(Cover picture courtesy of Stephanie Dray’s website.)

With her parents both dead, the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony is left at the mercy of her Roman captors.  Heir to one empire and prisoner of another, it falls to Princess Selene to save her brothers and reclaim what’s rightfully hers.

In the aftermath of Alexandria’s tragic fall, Princess Selene is taken from Egypt, the only home she’s ever known. Along with her two surviving brothers, she’s put on display as a war trophy in Rome. Selene’s captors mock her royalty and drag her through the streets in chains, but on the brink of death, the children are spared as a favor to the emperor’s sister, who takes them to live as hostages in the so-called lamentable embassy of royal orphans…

Now trapped in a Roman court of intrigue that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, Selene can’t hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her flesh. Nor can she stop the emperor from using her for his own political ends. But faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined honor her mother’s lost legacy. The magic of Egypt and Isis remain within her. But can she succeed where her mother failed? And what will it cost her in a political game where the only rule is win or die?

I’ve read many, many takes on Cleopatra Selene.  The historically accurate one from Michelle Moran, the more character based one of Vicky Alvear Shecter as well as a couple combinations of the two approaches.  But this magic infused take of Stephanie Dray’s is definitely unique.

Cleopatra Selene is a fascinating character.  She’s a princess, but she’s wise beyond her years as her mother likely would have raised her.  Her twin brother, Alexander Helios is a proud young man raised in the mold of his father, Mark Antony.  Selene is sort of the one that takes care of her two brothers, not allowing her pride to get in the way of their survival.  She has to make such hard choices and her brothers shun her for them, but they’re always made with the best intentions: to help the family survive.

Even in Rome with the dangerously ruthless Octavian and the always-scheming Livia, Selene manages to survive and even thrive.  For someone who goes through so much at a young age, Selene isn’t very trusting and when the schemes of the cult of Isis start to interfere with the careful walls she’s built around her surviving family she does everything she can to protect them.  Even if it means losing their only chance to escape.

I like how Stephanie Dray focused not only on making these historical figures into relatable characters, but also on the magical aspect of her novel.  We really feel Selene’s panic as the words of Isis are written into her skin and the reactions of the characters around her are varied and realistic.  Octavian’s reaction to a particular message near the end of the book seems quite in character, knowing what I know about the real Octavian.  Stephanie Dray doesn’t go too far into the magical aspect, but she gives us enough of a taste so we know Selene is in for big things in the sequel, Song of the Nile.

Some may find the plot a little slow and, well, fair enough.  I, however, enjoyed the slower pace as Selene adjusted to life in Rome and tried to make a new home for herself and her brothers there.  It really allowed Stephanie Dray to focus in on the characters as well as throw in some plot twists near the end.  As for the historical accuracy, many of the details have been carefully researched but as she says in her author’s note, Stephanie Dray did take liberties with history.

In short, if you’re looking for a refreshing take on Cleopatra Selene with some fantastical elements, you’ll love Lily of the Nile.

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

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