Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter – Review

Book Jacket:

The Luxe” meets the ancient world in the extraordinary story of Cleopatra’s daughter.

Selene has grown up in a palace on the Nile with her parents, Cleopatra & Mark Antony—the most brilliant, powerful rulers on earth. But the jealous Roman Emperor Octavianus wants Egypt for himself, & when war finally comes, Selene faces the loss of all she’s ever loved. Forced to build a new life in Octavianus’s household in Rome, she finds herself torn between two young men and two possible destinies—until she reaches out to claim her own.

This stunning novel brings to life the personalities & passions of one of the greatest dramas in history, & offers a wonderful new heroine in Selene.

 You can read an excerpt here.


Vicky Alvear Shecter does for Egypt what Rosemary Sutcliff did for Roman Britain – breathes life into the past with stunning detail. 

First, I should tell you – this book is NOT The Luxe; it’s not even in the same hemisphere as The Luxe. Cleopatra’s Moon is rich, engrossing historical fiction that takes the story we know – and who hasn’t heard of Cleopatra, her famous love affairs with Caesar and Mark Antony, and her even more famous suicide by asp – and turns it on its head. There is another side to this story, and Shecter delivers it simply and powerfully through the eyes of a young girl, a girl I had no idea existed until I picked up this book – Cleopatra’s daughter.

The life of Cleopatra Selene is in many ways an epic story, yet it is also largely a quiet, internal narrative. This is not an action-packed, pulse pounding adventure, and honestly I can understand why some people will call this book slow, but Cleopatra Selene’s story utterly engrossed me. Living under her mother’s rule, trying to honor her complex heritage, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian; witnessing the destruction of everything she knows and loves at the hands of the Romans, navigating her virtual slavery as a political prisoner and the intrigue of living in Octavianus’ household; the burden of her mother’s legacy, and the ways in which she must choose her own path to an uncertain future – you couldn’t have ripped this book out of my hands if you tried. As a child Cleopatra Selene is thrown adrift in a storm of power and politics, and her painful, gradual, emotional, and complicated coming of age makes for a wonderful book.

Of course, no coming of age story is complete without a romance – and this story has one of the quietest, most interesting takes on a love triangle I have ever seen. Cleopatra Selene’s romantic situation is genuine, interesting, and very, very different from your average teen fare – for Cleopatra Selene, romance is not the be all, end all of her existence. Instead our leading lady finds herself facing a romantic dilemma that is inextricably tied up with the decisions she has to make about who she wants to be, and she very much makes up her own mind about who to chose.

All around I was struck by the intelligence of this book – and not just in terms of its sublime historical texture. I was particularly taken with the quiet, matter of fact way in which Shecter portrays the power of women in the ancient world, from Cleopatra’s rule, to the scheming ways of Livia, Octavianus’ wife, and most importantly in Cleopatra Selene herself, a would-be queen with no kingdom to rule. Power is writ large and small throughout these pages, and perhaps the most intriguing power struggle is Cleopatra Selene’s internal battle over choosing her own fate. Shecter deftly weaves a thread of philosophy throughout this story, in Cleopatra Selene’s struggle to understand the idea of fate versus free will, and it throws into relief Cleopatra Selene’s dilemma as the bearer of her mother’s legacy. As a person raised to rule, Cleopatra Selene feels the weight of her heritage bearing down on every decision she has to make and yet she alone can decide her own fate. It is the most a-typical, brilliantly understated tale of self-empowerment I have ever read.

Honestly while reading this book I was floored, again and again, by how much I had taken for granted about the story of Cleopatra. Buried in this book, but never overtly stated, is the truth of that old maxim: history is written by the victors. Shecter quietly points out the political reasons behind the Roman view of Cleopatra, a view that has become cannon in our modern western world, and by doing so she subtly delivers a powerful message about the power of propaganda.

And let’s not forget the stunning historical detail of this story – from the games Cleopatra Selene plays with her brothers to the geography of ancient Egypt; from the politics of Rome and all her armies to the politics of a woman’s household, ruled by an iron fist; from the food they eat to the brutal methods of conquest, this story is a breathtaking traverse through ancient Egypt and Rome. Shector has made history live again.

In short, Cleopatra’s Moon is historical fiction as it should be – textured, moving, intelligent, and utterly compelling. This is quite simply a brilliant book.

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Publishers Weekly says:

This fascinating historical novel explores the tumultuous history of Cleopatra VIII Selene, the only daughter of Cleopatra VII and Marcus Antonius…Cleopatra Selene proves a stalwart heroine, and the novel’s atmospheric setting and romantic intrigue are highly memorable.

Kirkus Reviews says:

The sadistic family plotting in Octavianus’ compound makes for intriguing storytelling, and Cleopatra Selene’s loneliness, terror and ultimate bravery are well developed. ..Readers will enjoy what is still a romantic and exciting story, but with the tease of such rich material they’ll miss the meatiness of such storytellers as Katherine Sturtevant, Megan Whalen Turner or Robin McKinley.

Susan Carpenter for the LA Times says:

Alvear Shecter wrote two nonfiction books for young adults about major personalities from the same general time and geographic area: “Alexander the Great Rocks the World” and “Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen.” Her knowledge of this time period and the forces that shaped it are more than evident in “Cleopatra’s Moon,” which effortlessly weaves in details of ancient life that make history come alive.