Cleopatra VII, Daughter of the Nile
by Kristiana Gregory
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Cleopatra, Daughter of Nile / 0-590-81975-5
Good grief, I generally enjoy the Royal Diaries, but this one is just awful. I've read it twice now, thinking that perhaps the first time I was just being unfair, but I couldn't finish slogging through it the second time. I usually like Kristiana Gregory's work, but this one felt like either a very early work, or a very rushed effort, or both.
The history is terrible; the author has a cast of Roman and Greek "Who's Who" show up to introduce themselves to Cleopatra in her childhood, regardless of how unlikely each meeting is. It feels like the author would have preferred to be writing a story about Cleopatra the woman and chafed at writing one instead about Cleopatra the girl, hence the constant influx of characters who would later be integral in the reign of Cleopatra. This also bears out in Cleopatra's tone and writing - she is constantly pointing out how calm, queenly, educated, intelligent, etc. ad nauseum she is, as opposed to the other rulers and persons of influence who surround her. I'd like to think this is a clever piece of meta-literature - a self-centered diary by a self-centered girl, but alas, it seems we are to take the glowing accolades at face value. The result is a boring piece of narrative - Cleopatra spends the majority of the later half of the book lounging in Italy and homeschooling herself.
What is really offensive, though, Cleopatra has been remade into a monotheistic Judeo-Christian "wannabe". Cleopatra spends pages and pages speaking of the Jewish prophecy of a messiah, a messiah who will 'come out of Egypt' and 'rise from the dead', and I can't imagine that the real Cleopatra would even be aware of these Jewish legends. She wants to meet this messiah, and wonders if he could be Alexander the Great - some local Jewish men explain to her that it is not. She spends a great deal of time writing about 'Queen Esther' and 'Queen of Sheba and King Solomon', and there is no reason whatsoever to include those subjects here.
Cleopatra is incorrectly portrayed here as a monotheist and about a stone's throw away from becoming a Christian, if only Jesus would hurry up and be born. It's insulting, and particularly frustrating if you are interested in the mythology of ancient Egypt. Outside of a few references to Isis, there is no mention of the Egyptian gods and goddesses at all - and when any god is mentioned other than the Jewish one, it is the Greek/Roman gods, never the Egyptian ones. Add to the fact that Cleopatra has knowledge about subjects that she simply could not have at the time, and you have a piece that is pure fantasy, dressed up as a fun educational tool.
Avoid this book for the disrespect that it shows to Cleopatra in treating her beliefs and history as disposable. I'm frustrated that the author is apparently able to deal respectfully with the religious beliefs of Jews, Lutheran Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians, and Protestant Christians, and yet she cannot allow an ancient pagan her beliefs, preferring to shred them and remake them in a more "palatable" version.
~ Ana Mardoll
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