Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman | Rating: ★★★★☆
As a note, a printed galley of this novel was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not effect my opinions in any way.
Ah, yes. Historical fiction. It’s a tricky genre to tackle, even amongst the most seasoned authors. Mostly there are two ways that historical fiction can go, as I see it. There’s no real black and white between the two; either it’s a hit or it’s a miss.
In this genre, it can take the past we know from textbooks and other forms of history and bend it into an intriguing thrill ride that is equal parts fiction and nonfiction. Or they can trip all over themselves and create something that is nothing more than a rewrite of history to fit their needs and their needs alone.
Emily Holleman’s spin on history in Cleopatra’s Shadows is fun, dramatic, fascinating and shines light on a time in history that is often forgotten. Holleman’s writing is a blast to study and she really put in a great deal of effort to bring this story to life, this much is obvious from the start. It isn’t easy to capture history and spin it into something such as this, but Cleopatra’s Shadows is an exception and an absolute delight.
It’s also the first historical fiction that I’ve enjoyed in ages–I hope you agree, too!
Split between two narratives, we see Cleopatra’s half sisters and the tales of their lives. The versions of Berenice and Arsinoe that Emily pens are strong and fascinating and intriguing. It’s easy to fall into their hearts and their struggles and their aspirations–I kind of fell in love with both of them throughout the course of the book and grew to care a great deal for them.
Berenice was my personal favorite, which is painful mind you given the end, but Arsinoe had a great deal of spunk and mystery to her plots–especially her dreams.
Our story opens with Arsinoe, then only eight years old, being left behind by her indifferent father, King Ptolemy, and the story follows through her struggles of being abandoned, the longing for her beloved sister Cleopatra and her survival in her home after the new monarch.
Enter Berenice, Arsinoe’s half sister, who now holds the throne and rules over their father’s former court. Berenice struggles to hold the court as her own–whether that be the impending promise of her father returning from exile, sexism holding her back bit by bit, a cruel and ill mother and eventually a pair of marriages that just may bring her more stress than she needs.
As Berenice adjusts to her role as queen, Arsinoe wishes for a lot. Her familiar life, her sister, freedom–anything to hold on to, really. But she strong and wise for her age and with help she is able to survive her time in Berenice’s world.
Cleopatra’s Shadows is an engaging look at this ancient world and oh-so-vivid for its readers. Seeing pieces of history fall together in this form of story telling is an absolutely powerful and at times heartbreaking read. It will captivate many’s attention and tug on your heart strings.
You don’t have to be a fan of historical fiction to read this one. If the description, the promise of history and intrigue in fiction, and the cover art (how stunning is it?) doesn’t grab your attention, I don’t know what to say to you!
But if it does, buckle up for an intriguing ride and look into this rich tale of extraordinary lineage. It’s easy to get lost in the years throughout the story and I couldn’t put it down. I am confident in saying that you won’t be able to, either.
Royalty, danger, strong characters and an absolutely beautiful prose–Cleopatra’s Shadows has everything one could desire for their next read and then some!