(Cover picture courtesy of Margaret George’s site.)
Bestselling novelist Margaret George brings to life the glittering kingdom of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, in this luch, sweeping, and richly detailed saga. Told in Cleopatra’s own voice, this is a mesmerizing tale of ambition, passion, and betrayl, which begins when the twenty-year-old queen seeks out the most powerful man in the world, Julius Caesar, and does not end until, having survived the assassination of Caesar and the defeat of the second man she loves, Marc Antony, she plots her own death rather than be paraded in triumph through the streets of Rome.
This really is a monster of a book. Compared to some books I’ve read it’s not that long, only 964 pages, but the pages are huge and that’s why it took me months to finish this book. But in the end it was completely worth it, which is why I chose it for my 500th book review!
The thing I liked most about The Memoirs of Cleopatra wasn’t even the characters; it was the writing itself. Margaret George has a beautiful, captivating style that brings history to life. I could smell the slums of Rome, feel the hot Egyptian air on my skin in the temple of Philae and could even smell the perfumes and the food. Her descriptions appeal to all five of the reader’s senses but she never really belabors the point. She finds that perfect balance between Cleopatra’s own introspective nature and describing the scene around her for readers.
The characters were, of course, fantastic. Cleopatra is far from perfect, believe me, but Margaret George paints her not as a goddess, man-eater or ruthless despot, but rather as a human being. She loves, fights, rages, cries, smiles, laughs and does all of the things that normal human beings would do, especially under the amount of pressure she had throughout her whole life. Cleopatra comes off as an amazing character and this is definitely one of the more memorable portrayals of the last Pharaoh that I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot).
Julius Caesar was pretty much as I expected but Marc Antony was interesting. In this version it’s clear that he does struggle from some depression and feelings of inadequacy as Cleopatra pushes him to do the things she’s always wanted to do. It’s like she’s trying to live through him as a man but Antony just can’t measure up, causing him to turn to alcohol. This type of Antony has been portrayed before, but never quite as sympathetically as Margaret George portrays him. In the end, despite his weaknesses, I felt sad when he took his own life.
Margaret George has very obviously done her research here. The historical details are accurate as well as the broader strokes of the events of the time. Of course she’s had to fill in some gaps with her own imagination, but she sticks as close to reality as possible. Honestly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a novel that is better researched but so well written.
Basically, this was worth the months of reading and I couldn’t have picked a better book for my 500th review milestone. If you like Cleopatra or ancient Egypt in general I can’t recommend this one enough.
I give this book 5/5 stars.