Sunday, October 2, 2011

Review: Cleopatra's Moon - Vicky Alvear Shecter

Synopsis: Cleopatra Selene is the only daughter of the brilliant Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and General Marcus Antonius of Rome. She's grown up with jewels on her arms, servants at her feet, and all the pleasures of a palace at her command, and she wants only to follow in her mother's footsteps and become a great and powerful queen. Then the Roman ruler Octavianus, who has always wanted Egypt's wealth, launches a war that destroys all Selene has ever known. Taken to live in Octavianus's palace in Rome, she vows to defeat him and reclaim her kingdom at all costs. Yet even as she gathers support for her return, Selene finds herself torn between two young men and two different paths to power.

Review: A beautifully-written tale, Cleopatra's Moon seemed to promise a stirring historical adventure of intrigue, power struggles, and murders in the night. And it had all of that - and more. It is the "more" part which bothered me. Looking on the surface, this book was good. Cleopatra Selene, though inept at practically all that she attempted, was not the worst heroine to have, and her brother Ptolemy absolutely adorable. The descriptions of Alexandria were rich and vivid - so much so that the Reader could almost feel the warm, spiced wind and the blessed cool of palm trees.

But then you look deeper - or, rather, you read further into the book. While the Author did a splendid job with research, there is a rather unnecessary scene that seems to only serve the purpose of painting the Jews as, well, idiots who cannot even explain the depth of their beliefs (which is just ridiculous). They do not think like the Jews of the Ancient world, but like modern-day Evangelicals. It's painfully obvious that the Author spent more time looking up the Egyptian religion than Jewish beliefs, and I have to wonder why she even bothered putting the scene in at all.

Finally, there is the fact that the Author actually portrays the Romans too accurately. Yes, I am really voicing this as a complaint, and here is why: as I said, she portrays the Romans for what they were - a disgusting, perverted culture, whose economy was based solely on conquest. She also does a fairly good job of portraying the Egyptians the same way, but still manages to glorify them by picturing Cleopatra, Marc Antony, and Julius Caesar as being "not that bad of people." Where she got that Julius Caesar was kind and merciful to his enemies, I will never know, because any small reading of historical accounts written by Ancient historians will reveal that Julius Caesar was one of the most disgusting individuals that ever lived.

Putting that "minor" flaw aside, let us return to her portrayal of the Romans. This is where the sexual content comes into play. I will say this: the Author never becomes explicit, but she doesn't soften it either. Twice Cleopatra Selene is almost raped, there are numerous references to whores, men liking young boys (or other men), too-close-to-explicit-for-comfort groping and kissing scenes (again, no one wants to read descriptions of French kissing), and then finally, we do have a bedroom scene which I did not fully read, but it looked close enough to explicit to be absolutely inappropriate (ch. 44, pg. 315-316). But surely this is nothing to be irritated over, because it's an "interrupted bedroom scene," so that makes it okay (I am being sarcastic, by the way).

I realize that it is very hard to write a historical story containing Romans without mentioning their pervertedness, but it can be done tastefully, and even ignored to an extent. Rosemary Sutcliff managed to write tons of Roman-based books and never once found it necessary to delve as deeply into their disgusting habits as Vicky Shecter did.

In the end, we are left with a story that could have been excellent - well worth spending $18.00 on, in fact. But it's so populated with sexuality and immoral behavior (which, by the way, isn't necessarily painted as a bad thing; when Cleopatra Selene thinks her twin brother has a male lover, she thinks it's cute) that it makes it uncomfortable and practically impossible to read. I wish I had better things to say, but that is how it is.
Overall Rating: 
N

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