Friday, 24 June 2016

Review: Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman

2016  419 pages  Sphere Books

Egypt. 58 BC. Arsinoe has been abandoned by her father, Ptolemy XII, who has fled Alexandria and taken her beloved sister Cleopatra with him. It is now Arsinoe’s half-sister Berenice who has seized the throne, leaving the young princess to fight for survival in the bloodthirsty and treacherous royal court. Berenice too has her own demons to face – having taken the throne from her weak-willed father she now has to prove herself worthy of being queen, as the possibility of her father and Cleopatra’s return forever threaten to crush her new found power.

The first book in an upcoming series, Cleopatra’s Shadows is a fascinating novel that covers a small period in Ancient Egyptian history that most of us probably know nothing about. Cleopatra is of course perhaps the most famous of Egypt’s pharaohs but she features very little in this novel, with Emily Holleman choosing to tell the story of her sisters Arsinoe and Berenice – but they’re no less interesting. The narrative is written from the perspective of both sisters and the balance between chapters is handled very well, with both Arsinoe and Berenice getting plenty of page time to tell their stories. Arsinoe I think was my favourite of the two – she’s young but fierce, and her character packs a lot of punch for someone who was only eight years old when she was abandoned by her family.

Holleman has also done an amazing job creating such a vivid representation of first century Alexandria. There are plenty of details about culture, religion, and history without the story feeling weighed down or dull and it all adds to the richness of the narrative. It’s a vivid tale and whilst not a sweeping epic, it’s definitely a work of historical fiction you can really get your teeth in to. There’s conspiracy and treachery behind every corner and although there aren’t great mounds of action or battle sequences, there’s a genuine and contemporary flavour that courses throughout which kept me hooked right up until the final page.

Arsinoe and Berenice feel very different to begin with and despite being sisters, wars within the family have led them in different directions until circumstance throws them together. They both have their flaws but they’re both interesting characters and I liked how despite their weaknesses, they both come across as strong young women in what was a very male dominated world. As the story goes on you see how similar they are – both struggle to know who to trust and each of them only wants to survive, but living in such a dangerous time leads to sad truths and ultimately, it makes for a moving read.  An enchanting historical tale that I enjoyed immensely.

Overall rating:
4 stars

My copy of Cleopatra’s Shadows was sent to me by The Bookbag and my review was originally published on their website.


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